It’s no exaggeration to say I’m not a particularly organised person. Recently, though, I’ve been making a push to become more efficient. Or at least less messy. I don’t know quite what prompted this switch. Societal pressure? Podcasts with people bragging about workflows? Exasperation at my messy desk? All of these are questions. I don’t have the answers.
One of the first steps I took was to look at my email inbox. Not a pretty sight.
I thought I stayed on top of them. At least, I knew what to search if I ever wanted to pull up an old email. What’s a few unread emails anyway? But that bold 167 unread emails started to nag at me. And then I noticed how many emails I had in my inbox in total. Around the 2,000 mark. Not so bad maybe. But then I realised that the ‘in total’ Gmail gives you is just for the particular ‘tab’ your on. As it happens, they’ve also helpfully divided my emails into three other ‘tabs’: social; promotions; updates. I only recently discovered that each of those has around the same amount of emails. More in the case of ‘updates’. That had around 4,000. The amount of emails I had to tame increased fivefold, without me doing anything. Which was great.
My technique so far has been to start from the oldest and work backwards. I set up my email address in 2010. I have mostly deleted anything from pre-2015 unless it looks ultra important. It’s amazing how few emails look ultra important.
And then I discovered the ‘labels’ feature that gmail has. So I’ve been merrily labelling up my emails with all manner of things. Receipts, Writing, Personal, Personal/Family, Work. Now all I need to do is remember the fifteen and counting labels I use.
I’m now down to around 4,000 emails total. But I am on Inbox 54. Obviously that’s still a swollen bloated mass of an inbox, but you know, credit where it’s due.
And what of the act of doing all this? Of clearing out, organising, deleting, labelling? It’s liberating. I’m removing clutter. With every email deleted it’s a small amount of my past that I no longer have to carry around with me. And those bits that I keep, are bits of my past that I want to carry around with me. It has given me tremendous perspective on what is important to me. Emails from friends and family are important. Emails from hotel chains I stayed in once, six years ago, not so much.
Overall I highly recommend clearing out your email inbox. It is at once liberating and practical, and gives you real perspective on what is actually important to you. The next step is to unsubscribe to all those damned mailing lists I’m somehow on.