It was only last year that I discovered that little feature bottom left of Outlook telling me how many emails I had in my in box. I resolved to get it down to 50 (from about 2000), which I did over Christmas. Since then I’ve bounced around the 300 mark and getting back to 50 seemed impossible. And hardly worth the effort since it’s like sweeping snow in a blizzard.
Not that I get junk. All that is caught by Spamarrest, which I’ve been using for years. No, these are bona fide emails requiring at least my attention if not my response.
For my birthday in July, the Boss bought me a pile of books on decluttering (yes, a whole pile). Three were by David Allen and one by Erin Rooney Dolland. Luckily I started with the latter.
Unclutter your Life in One Week – had it been published in the UK, we’d have probably caught it with the Trades’ Descriptions Act. Because it is NOT POSSIBLE to follow this programme. For instance, Day One. Read the first 56 pages of the book. This takes you through the introduction and through Monday, so obviously you need to know all this before you start. Next, clear out your wardrobe and get the stuff to the charity shop, having somehow managed to buy some useful accessories before the shops are open. And, oh yes, fold up those T-shirts Anthea Turner style. Next, go to work. Yep, it’s now about 8am. At work, before doing any work, completely transform your office space. When you come home in the evening, it’s time to muck out and wash down the lobby.
The author must be very thin.
Intuitively, I’d started reading the opening chapters over a weekend so by the time I hit Monday morning, I was more than ready to go. In fact, I’d had a sleepless night from excitement. This is a very well-written book and she should take up thriller-writing. By 10am I’d realised the title was daft if not actionable, but I decided to put that quibble aside and just follow the programme at my own pace. Voila! My life begins to change.
Somewhere in the book she tackles emails, giving credit to David Allen as her inspiration. I put the method into operation and then the life change became profound. This is the system in a nutshell, but alter it to suit your own situation. The main principle is to keep the inbox empty. Yep, empty.
The following applies to Outlook. If you’re using another email programme, try putting A in front of the categories, e.g. Areadme, Adump etc. This way they’ll all go to the top.
I created five categories to go into the top section of the navigation bar on the left. They are:
Fun links (music and jokes people send me)
Every other category in the navigation bar – think of them as folders in your filing cabinet. In fact, Outlook could match your filing cabinet in the headings (although mine doesn’t).
Action takes everything that requires just that, some action. Review it daily.
Readme takes those emails which need longer than 2 minutes and perhaps need no action at all other than a reply. We used to call this ‘correspondence’. Review weekly.
Dump. I stopped using delete because, having deleted stuff, you then have to delete it again sometime. The Boss says this is easy but I don’t find it so. I delete the Dump folder periodically, the whole folder, then create a new one. It works for me.
Pending is ‘Waiting for’. You’ve replied but want the stuff to hang around for a bit just in case. Review monthly.
So, there you are. Every email will fit into one of those categories and there is no need to have anything in your inbox ever. Every email has one of two ultimate destinations: File or Dump. Of course, success rests on REVIEW. It must be done as a rigorous discipline, or ACTION begins to look like your inbox once did. But this system does remove those lumps that used to clog everything up.
You could organise your entire inbox this way in about half an hour but I chose not to. I wanted to keep ACTION no longer than the screen. So having cleared everything recent from the inbox, I’m now into stuff marked ‘Older’ and I nibble away, about ten at a time, when I feel like it. I’m down to 95.
Now that I’m reading David Allen himself, I find this system also applies to the desk and study. I’ve spent the weekend in a fever of filing and dumping. About that, more anon.