Uncluttering at work: e-mail edition (not e-mail addition)

Uncluttering has been a theme for me. You know this. For over three months, I have been living in a perfectly staged state of housey-ness. As much as I hated sorting through my stuff (toss, donate, keep), I have gotten to the point where I so totally enjoy living without so much clutter. Yeah, now I don't think of them as "things", I think of them as "clutter" and a few other words I shouldn't say on my blog. I remember when I could fit everything I owned in my car. And it wasn't a big car. Not having much money wasn't fun, but I guess that over time, I forgot how free I felt back then. I miss that feeling, now that I remember it. Anyway, I'm not sure I can go back to where I was right before my massive uncluttering project. You may hear more on that in the next few months as I work out how my possession-lite life is going to be.

Now that my personal life is uncluttered, I'm thinking about work. And how nice it is to sit with my computer, a notebook and a cup of coffee. That is all. Why do I need all of this stuff?


The physical work uncluttering commences soon. The e-mail uncluttering has been underway for some time now. And I am learning some things:

1) The ego must be separated from the e-mail. Oh lord, this is hard. And not just for me. What I have realized is that I don't always need to be the person with the answer and the fastest trigger finger. If it's someone else's job to know something, I let them answer. Even if I already know the answer. I don't need to be right about everything. Yes, I did just say that.

2) Clean up those conversations. And I don't mean the colorful language that I may or may not use. I mean that when my inbox runneth over, I use the Clean Up feature in Outlook to get rid of redundant e-mails. I realized that I was doing this by hand and it was burning time. There is also a Clean Up Folder feature for when you add e-mails to a folder one by one and end up with a lot of redundant...um....stuff. 

3) Oh folder search, why do I love you so? Anything that falls into the category of "eh, I might need it but it's probably not a CYA situation", I just delete, knowing that I can search my deleted items at any time. Anything that I search for and find in my deleted items, I move into another folder.  Obviously , I needed it.

4) The big purge: emptying my deleted items. Oh the feeling of doing this is somewhere between "whee!" and "woohoo!" Does the idea totally freak you out? Sort your deleted items by date and only dump things that are over a year old, or 6 months if you are brave.

5) Practice this...and say it in your head with me: "right click, delete". Doesn't that feel good? Even better is this: "shift, click/shift, right click, delete". It's like crack....tasty, tasty crack.

6) Develop a folder system in Outlook. Think about it and make it make sense. I have 4 main folders besides my Inbox: Team, People, Global and Work Commitments. Within each, I have a subfolder hierarchy. I know that we all have a tendency in modern corporate life to try to keep things flat. When it comes to my folder hierarchy, the opposite is true. Any topic that has 3 or more mails deserves a folder (I hate browsing folders) and I make sure I put the folder in the right place in the hierarchy. I am a ruthless folder deleter when a folder over-stays it's welcome. It's not a permanent arrangement, it's a trial run. I'm just dating my folders and I fear commitment. And again, I ask myself "Self? What is the worst thing that could happen?"

7) I loves me some Outlook Quick Steps. Anyone else using these yet in Office 2010? You use these  for the things you do most often, like moving things to a folder you use frequently (when you need to review the mail first...I use Rules Wizards when I don't), or sending a mail to your team (yes, it knows who your team is).

8) Sort by subject line or sort by sender. I find that when I sort my inbox like this, I find a lot of stuff I don't use. Yeah, I get that we all need to see the most recent mails that come in. By why do we just leave our inboxes like this? If you aren't regularly sorting your e-mail, I think you will be surprised at how much stuff you can get rid of.

9) Get your personal e-mail out of your work inbox. Look, we all have personal e-mails come to us at work. Instead of keeping them in a folder, I send them to myself on my home machine. That way you can delete them from your inbox, they will stay in your  deleted items and sent items folder for future deleting, and you will have them on your other machine. They live in 3 places for those just in case moments. Speaking of which...

10) On a psychological note, don't live in that "just in case" place. Oh that place drives me nuts. And if you let fear hold a place of honor in your life, you are doing yourself a disservice. What is the worst thing that could happen...if you delete a mail, if you give away your circular saw, if you have to look up that pizza menu online next time?. I mean, really. The last time you needed something and didn't have it, you survived.

I also use a web-based blog reader because having posts come into my inbox makes me want to hurt kitties. And when I don't have time, I don't want to see it. At all. But I see that as more of a blog-reading preference. Are there other things that you guys are doing to reduce or organize e-mail? I can't be the only one having this much obsessive-compulsive fun.

Comments (1)

  1. Karen F. says:

    With the advent of Gmail, it makes it even harder to remove the clutter from your inbox since they keep upping your storage and because of a nifty little button called Archive lol.  Pretty much the electronic equivalent of sweeping things under the rug.  My business relies so much on sending and re-sending attachments that it eats up all that free space pretty quickly.  As a general rule I keep stuff for a year and then I purge.  Otherwise I will have very little storage to work with at all.  Not all my contacts send me files in Word…some of them are PDFs of images (not text) or JPGs.  Ugh.  But I manage all the same.

    Thanks for these wonderful tips…definitely worth sharing.

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter if you need me)

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