The Savvy Emailer’s Guide to Ending Inbox Insanity

Last week we looked at a psychological phenomenon called decision fatigue and discussed how it can cause us to make poor choices or avoid making choices altogether. More specifically, we dove into how decision fatigue can freeze us when it comes to cleaning out our homes and our inboxes. (You can read that article here.)

Whether we’re talking about physical objects, digital information, or anything in between, decluttering is, at its core, the act of repeatedly deciding how to process our possessions. Because of this, it can be a mentally exhausting endeavor; but also because of this, we can apply a similar set of overarching practices for preventing and purging our messes, both online and off. Here’s how.

Don’t bring things into your life that you don’t need or love

There’s a cool new tech gadget out and those hiking boots are a great deal, but you probably won’t use that gadget after a couple of weeks and you already have a great pair of hiking boots. Because you don’t love the gadget and don’t need the boots, there is not a huge value-add, so don’t bring them into your home.

Similarly, before signing up for a new email list or enabling email notifications from places like Facebook, ask yourself if the addition will add value to your life or just become another piece of junk. You might genuinely need a newsletter if it’s integral to your job or you might genuinely love the knowledge or entertainment value of others. Just remember that people have perfected the art of making you feel compelled to subscribe to their lists and have made it incredibly easy to do so. Each time you are ready to give out your email address, ask yourself if you’re signing up because you need to, because you want to, or because the website has a crack marketing team.

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Don’t keep things in your life that you don’t need or love

It’s normal to become attached to belongings for a number of reasons. You could have a fond memory of something, have an aversion to change, or simply accept that things are the way they are because that’s how they’ve always been.

But just because you’ve become accustomed to waking up and seeing that tattered olive green chair each morning (or that email from Groupon), doesn’t mean that you have to wake up to it tomorrow. You’ve had some great times sitting in that chair, but if you find yourself repeatedly asking if it’s time to let go, then it’s probably time to let go. The same goes with Groupon. Sure you loved seeing all of the great deals back when it was novel, but if you haven’t purchased a Groupon (or even opened their email) in a while, it’s time to send it to the SaneBlackHole.

Have a good system for the things you do keep

Desk covered in papers? It might be time for a filing cabinet. Pantry in disarray? Consider shelving improvements. Inbox in chaos? Utilize custom email folders and prioritized email filtering.

And don’t forget to organize things based on their importance and how likely you are to use them. If you only occasionally pull out the crystal stemware or that wacky Halloween costume, those items don’t need to be as front and center as your everyday tableware or work clothing. Your emails are no different. Some need to be readily available because they require prompt or immediate action, while others can be tucked away or archived for a later time when they’re wanted or needed.

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