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ITS Management Briefing - How to take (back) control of your Inbox: getting to zero in 5 simple steps

Author: tidBiTS

Posted on Jul 6, 2018

Category: Management Briefings , General Interest

I recently let it be known within my circle of colleagues that I had achieved what few others in similar positions have done: I’ve tamed my email Inbox! The snorts of doubt and looks of suspicion this is usually met with prompt me to explain that no, I am not delusional, I have actually, permanently, taken back control of the time-and-energy drain that email has become for many of us. You can too by following these simple steps.

1. Commit. You have to really want to take control of your Inbox before any strategy is going to work. If you’re okay with chaos, inefficiency, and absurdly big backlogs of unread messages, by all means continue as you are—thank your lucky stars for the Search function! The rest of us will look on in pity. On the other hand, if you have encountered the depths of email hell and seek a way out, you need to make up your mind to change things up.

2. Be ruthless (or at least be organized). As a former records manager and librarian (my recovery is going nicely, thanks for asking), it comes naturally to me to want to impose order upon my work environment. It turns out it isn’t that hard to do—but you really do have to come to grips with discerning between what is actually important and indeed even relevant to your job, and what is not. For most people this means purging and cleansing our Inboxes of the flotsam and jetsam the everyday torrent of email leaves behind. The reminder messages. The ads. The things you are copied on but not expected to respond to. The threads that have morphed from their original subject into some misshapen echo of their former selves. The phishing attempts. The endless SPAM. All of it can and must go. If you simply can’t bring yourself to part with your precious nuggets, you need to cultivate the excellent habit of categorizing them and moving them to appropriately named folders. Above all, get them out of your Inbox!

3. Be persistent. If you have thousands of messages clogging your Inbox, it will take time to whittle them down to a rational level. Don’t attempt to do it all at once, but keep at it. Eventually you will conquer! And be persistent in scrubbing your other folders too—the catch all ones, the ones carefully and thoughtfully labeled (then ignored), and the new ones you will create (in Step 2 above). Don’t forget to occasionally wipe your Sent folder as well—do you really need to keep a copy of everything stretching back to the Stone Age? I keep the last 6 months worth in mine—if I haven’t had to dig out a message that’s been around longer than that, chances are slight indeed that I will ever need to. I derive great satisfaction from deleting hundreds of useless messages in a single go. What power.

4. Turn down the volume. One way to beat the Inbox influx is to stop it before it ever arrives. How many listservs and subscription lists do you belong to? I’ll bet there are lots, many of which you are likely completely ignorant of how you got on them in the first place. Most email clients now have handy unsubscribe features that allow you to get out from under them—like applying insect spray to deal with an annoying fly infestation. Finally, and please, READ MY LIPS, use the Block or Junk feature liberally and frequently. By marking individual messages in this way, you will train the email system to recognize who’s in charge—you! Pesky messages from unknown senders will be a thing of the past, and you’ll wonder why you never thought of this before.

5. Broaden your horizons. In the olden days (circa 2 years ago), ITS restricted email quotas to a stingy single gigabyte for faculty and staff. If you asked nicely, and if the gods smiled upon you, you might be grudgingly allocated another gig, or in exceptional cases (i.e. rarely) a bit more. We’ve gone from this garden hose method of allocation to the firehose method practically over night. Essentially, quota space is now unlimited; this should excite you, and open your mind to the intriguing possibilities it presents. For instance, you don’t have to be miserly in creating new folders to hold all your stuff. Knock yourself out coming up with great categories, and sub folders and sub-sub folders--oh my! And do I even need to mention you now have 24/7/365 access to all your messages and files via any device from practically anywhere? There has never been a better time to spread your email wings, folks; stop once and for all putting everything in a single bucket!

Just so you know, I reached zero Inbox a few weeks ago. Think about it. Not a single message, opened or unopened, cluttered the dazzling white space. There was absolutely nothing to distract me from my actual job. Inevitably, of course, reality quickly intruded, and messages continue to pour in all day every day. But I’ve trained myself to be unremitting in my resolve to take back and keep my Inbox sane and clean. There are never more than 20 items in my Inbox at any given time, and these are almost always there as reminders that I have to do something or get back to someone. New items are dealt with as quickly as my schedule permits, resulting in a pristine Inbox by the end of each and every day. I can always find time to deal with 1 or 2 or a few messages; before zero Inbox, I was routinely faced with dozens or even hundreds, of emails, and many I just left there to eventually mock and intimidate me. No more. 

You’re welcome.

PS: RM:  How many records managers does it take to empty an Inbox?
      Me:   I don’t know, how many?
      RM:   6:  1 to categorize
                    1 to assign metadata
                    1 to define retention dates
                    1 to archive
                    1 to review after 7 years
                    1 to press delete
      Me:  Hmm, I do all that myself
      RM:  The union will be in touch……

July 4, 2018, Terry Nikkel, AVP, ITS

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