Check me out, I’ve got no email in my Inbox!

Screenshot of Outlook with no email
What Outlook 2003 looks like with no email!

Today Jane went to a funeral while I sat and purged my Outlook Inbox of well over 600 emails. Boy! do we know how to have fun in our house!

I’ve cleared almost every folder of old and redundant emails. I’ve replied to 59 emails, some going back to late-November (sorry if that was you and you wanted an immediate reply). I’ve still got to work through my Mahjong folder, which could take a while, but the rest of it is pretty empty. I was particularly heavy on the Smite button in my Newsletters folder.

And how relieved do I now feel?! It’s like a weight off my back.

This has been a good week in terms of tidying and organising. On Saturday Jane and I tidied the house from top to bottom; actually, from top to middle as we forgot about the front door area and the first set of stairs. I feel so much more relaxed when the house is in order, and I know where everything is. (What would a therapist say about that?)

I’m slowly turning into my Dad: “Everything has a place. If you put it back you’ll know where it is the next time you need it!” I’ve actually also started going round the house now switching off lights in rooms that no-one is in, just like Dad used to. And sometimes rooms that still have people in; more than once has Jane been plunged into darkness. Anyway, he had a point, from that organised, engineering kind of world that he inhabited. In his line of work (draughtsmanship and electrical engineering) if something wasn’t in the right place at the right time it didn’t work!

One of the best books I’ve ever read about organisation is Take Back Your Life by Sally McGhee. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. There is a great section on email inbox purging, and sometimes the best method for email that’s been in the inbox for months is to hold down the delete key and keep it down until all has been forgiven. If no-one has emailed back to say, “Where is that report?!” or “What do you think about the ideas in my last email?” it can’t have been that important. How much email that we write actually is that important? Just because it reaches its destination quickly doesn’t necessarily mean that it is urgent.

Another great tip of McGhee’s is that the Inbox is not the place to store information, it’s a collection point. In other words, the email comes in and you deal with it as soon as you can.

  • If it has new contact information you add that to your Outlook Contacts (or PDA, or other address book).
  • If it has information about an appointment you add that to your Outlook Calendar (or Filofax, or PDA, or whatever diary you use).
  • If it contains something that you need to do then add it to your Outlook Tasks list.
  • If it contains information that you need to keep, or an important attachment, then you move it somewhere else (save it into My Documents, or copy the information into Microsoft OneNote 2003 — a wonderful hierarchical note-taking application, or wherever else you store data).

Then delete the email. Don’t keep it in your inbox forever … unless you use Gmail, of course!

(I’m kidding, of course, I know that Gmail allows you to keep a million emails and search them as effortlessly as slicing through butter with a hot USB cable, or something, but it’s still not a great idea of hoarde emails.)

I’ve found that it’s taken me about a year to fully integrate Sally McGhee’s methods into my daily routine but they sure work. All I need to work on is my sometimes-lack-of-motivation so that the house doesn’t get so messy, and so that I don’t have to spend the first day of my holidays clearing out my Inbox!

Still, I did feel as though I had achieved a great deal today, and I know that there is nothing sitting in my Inbox waiting for me to discover in another three months time that should have been done yesterday. Unless it’s in the Mahjong folder!

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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