This past weekend I finally finished a project I’ve been working on for a while. No, I wasn’t painting walls or weeding a garden, or working on my next book.
I was getting rid of digital clutter, specifically email.
Digital clutter is strange. It doesn’t take up visible space in my life, doesn’t embarrass me by spilling out in front of friends who stop in to visit. It doesn’t demand anything from me, in an active way. But oh, how it clogs my mental space!
Like managing a constantly replenished mound of laundry, the work of filtering, thinning, and deleting digital files is never done. And of course, email is just one source of digital clutter. Just as it’s easy to save physical items, (in case I need them at some point), digital files collect and grow at an alarming pace. Between information I save for work, for writing projects, for social connections, for personal reasons, and just because I don’t always have time to filter in the moment (I tend to save things to read later…do you do that?) I feel like I’m constantly adding to my stash, and only occasionally taking time to clear out.
When I’m in de-clutter mode, I realize no matter how efficiently I try to file in my digital folders, use flags and tags to sort, label and date, a lot gets buried, lost in the heap of articles and tips and links I’ve saved. Keeping up with photos is challenging too. I have an embarrassment of riches, but it’s so difficult to purge the images that look back at me from my screen.
I long ago mastered the issue of physical clutter. That’s not to claim I don’t have any, just that I’ve learned to manage it, stay on top of the wily beast that’s a composite of paper and possessions, and threatens to derail orderly existence. One good thing about living lightly, mostly in travel mode, I can only accumulate as much as I have luggage space to accommodate. (I do occasionally buy something I can’t do without and send it to my storage unit, but that real estate is limited too.)
Digital clutter is so insidious because it’s largely invisible, to everyone but the person with password access. Only I (or you, in your little digital world) know just how bad the digital homestead really is.
And, sad to say, only I can thin my files. I can’t farm this task out, hire a cleaning service to come in and do the dirty work for me.
Well, I could, if I was brave enough. But that would be scary…I actually do need some things I’ve saved. I have to decide what’s essential, and what’s not.
But that’s the fun part too…watching the trash folder fill, and the inbox empty. Ah, the charming key word of the project…delete, delete, delete!
The best thing about digital clutter is that it’s easy, once the sorting’s done, to be done…no bags to buy to round stuff up, no hauling to donation centers or yard sales, no filling my car with stuff to get rid of.
Just me and one little key!
Oh, the power of it! Makes me a little heady, just thinking of all I did, in the space of a few hours!
If you’d like to do this too, it’s really easy. Just divide and conquer! These are the steps to get your email under control:
- Create an archive folder, name it whatever you like, and move all the emails from your inbox to that new folder. (H/T to Michael Hyatt for this.) You can “select all” to move everything, or if you want to do some pre-sorting, filter your inbox mail using key words or sender names to pull out anything you want to delete before archiving.
- After you move your remaining inbox emails to your new archive folder, take a moment to savor the emptiness. Feels better already, doesn’t it?
- Set up additional folders, as many as you need, to further filter the emails you keep. I have a folder for financial info, work projects, individuals. Label the folders any way that works for you.
- Depending on the size of your task, set aside time to whittle down your archive folder. Whether it takes you a couple of hours or a few days, you should be able to do a lot of sorting using key words and sender names to pull up emails from specific people or companies, or on specific topics, and move messages in bulk. This doesn’t have to be a one-by-one process, at this stage.
- Once you have the archived emails further sorted into individual folders, you can go through these at your leisure. Depending on the size of the task, clean out a folder a day, or a week..whatever works for you.
- As you find emails from companies or individuals you no longer want to subscribe to, take a moment and unsubscribe. Or, at a minimum, mark the mail as junk, and new mail from that source should land in your junk/spam folder, making it easier to delete in the future.
- If you find photos or other info in emails that you want to keep in a more permanent manner, create a file on your hard drive to save to, or save to a flash drive.
- Michael Hyatt suggested if you have email that you haven’t responded to, but should, only reply to the last couple of emails from any given person. In essence, you reset yourself…you’ve addressed the most recent issues, and you’ve drawn a new line in the sand. I didn’t really have a lot of make up work to do here, most of what I needed to thin was already addressed. But this is a good suggestion if you find yourself backlogged with email you haven’t replied to.
- Stay on top of email coming to your inbox so you don’t accumulate new clutter to replace what you’re thinning.
- Keep your email folders up to date so they don’t become clogged…you’re creating a more efficient way to process your mail, not just spreading out your inbox contents.
So there you have it…you can discover all sorts of things you’ve saved, purge a lot, and mark another task off your list! The key is to break this process into small tasks, don’t overthink, and set up a sorting / filing system that works for you.
Good luck, and hello empty inbox!