Happy Herbivore Blog

August 22, 2011

Minimalist Monday: Email Management (How to Organize Email, Increase Productivity & Reduce Stress)

Minimalist Inbox.

Clutter gives me anxiety. I'm finding that "too much" of anything is stressful and borderline chaotic for me. If I want to feel like a zen panda at home, everything needs to be put away--out of sight and then neatly organized with purpose where it's contained. 

Organizing my pantry (and closest) plus clearing off my household surfaces, has made a huge difference in my stress levels at home.

Notice the zen difference in my bathroom:

But what does my bathroom have to do with my inbox?!

My inbox does not make me a zen panda. 

It's one of those things that slowly gets out of control, email by email. I don't really notice it until it's stressing me out. For example, Last week I was feeling so overwhelmed and anxious about all the email that I signed out. A few hours later I signed in again and there were 15 new emails spilling out. I think I yelled something like, "MY EMAIL MULTIPLIES! MY EMAIL IS LIKE A RABBIT!"

There they were. All those emails. All those unread emails. All of those emails acting as a reminder for things I needed to do. All of it was starring back at me. I was freaking out. 

My usual solution is to sit down and weed: go through and do and delete and file away--which I did. About an hour and a half later my inbox was clean and organized and I had a real sense of accomplishment. I felt zen... until two days later when my inbox was overflowing and making me anxious again. It wasn't as bad as it had been before, but it wasn't great and it was a source of stress for me all day. I knew I had to find a better solution.

At first I thought I might develop a zen habit -- treat my inbox like my other household chores (I do various chores systematically throughout the week. This keeps my house clean and I don't have to worry about when laundry, mopping the floors, etc. will get done because I have a plan in place). 

I thought I could set aside some time each week to purge the ol' inbox... but I realized that would mean I'd only feel totally zen on a purge day. The other days my email would still be a source of stress. So then I considered setting time aside to do it every day until I remembered if I had the time to deal with all my emails every day, this whole backlog and buildup would never happen. So obviously that wasn't a realistic solution either. 

Then, when I was tidying up my bathroom, it hit me. (See? full circle).

I need to treat my inbox the way I treat everything else -- put it away, out of sight, out of mind. 

I created a system of folders to hold my emails so they're still there, but they're not starring at me. This keeps my inbox clear, allowing me to feel like a zen panda. For example, I'm subscribe to a few newsletters and I genuinely want to read them. Problem is, when they arrive to my inbox, I usually can't stop to read them. So they just sit there, waiting to be read...cluttering up my inbox and making me stressed about the email volume of my inbox. 

Now all the newsletters are in a folder called "read me." As soon as one comes in, it gets put in that folder so the next time I have some free time, or I'm taking a break, I can pop on over to that folder and catch up. In the meantime, it's out of sight.

Same with all the emails that are lingering behind to be a reminder I need to do something. Now they're all neatly stored in a "to do next" folder.

I added about 10 total folders... read me, to do, coupons, ideas, etc and let me tell you, my inbox has never been so zen and stress-free! Depending on your email provider, you can usually also set it up so the emails automatically go into these folders, too. Talk about minimalist!

My zen inbox.

Other tips for a zen inbox:

- Don't leave your email open. (Seriously!) check it only a few times every day. (Read my post on single-tasking vs. multitasking to see why this is crucial).

- When you check your email, dipose of each one immediately. Respond if you can. If you can't respond right then, or it requires time you don't presently have (such as reading the newsletter), file it away into a folder and come back to it later. Don't let emails hang out. You inbox is prime real estate. Squatters are not welcome!

Minimalist Replies! Don't be afraid of 1 line (or 1 word) replies. I hate how that's often viewed as rude or unfriendly. I like to think I'm not wasting my time or yours with fluff. Of course there is a bit of balancing act here. I'm a little more flowery and wordy when dealing with people I don't know very well, but if I'm emailing my assistant, short and sweet. Yesterday Andrea asked me a yes or no question and got a "Y" back as a reply. Perhaps thats a little too minimalist.

As with the rest of my minimalist journey I'm still a work in progress, but my inbox is much more zen and so am I.

How's your inbox? Any organization tips?

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