Welcome to Week 4 of Email Month in the Tidy ’24 series! After the first few weeks of preparing your inbox, unsubscribing from everything you can, and building out a simple folder structure to make it easy to decide where to put the messages you want to keep, it’s time to create a routine that lets you zip through the bulk of incoming mail in only a few minutes: the quick-clean routine! Watch the video or read below for details on this week’s task.

Email Week 4: Quick-Clean Routine

It’s time to put together your clean-slate inbox (Week 1), reduced incoming message load (Week 2), and simplified folder structure (Week 3) with the magic touch of a simple routine that wipes away most of the mess in your inbox in just a few minutes.

This is one of my favorite parts of Email Month because the quick-clean routine is such a powerful piece of inbox management. If you can get this one piece in place and stick to it, your inbox should remain a mess-free, stress-free zone.

Action Steps:

  1. Write down a short list of email organization tasks to do in 10 minutes or less (see below for examples)
  2. Pick a time at least once per week (daily is better) for email management
  3. Add it to your calendar or set a recurring reminder so you can’t forget

PRODUCTIVITY TIP: If possible, ask someone else to remind you to clean your email or ask about your inbox. Even if the other person isn’t perfectly regular about it, an occasional “ping” from a friend or family member provides a great sense of accountability. You can’t just swipe it away like an unwanted notification.

Concerning what should go on your list, choose the tasks that take care of the easy stuff: the 80% that’s less important, leaving the 20% that requires more attention for another time. The quick-clean routine doesn’t get you to Inbox Zero on its own; it simply clears away the distractions and ensures you don’t end up with 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 messages in your inbox again.

Here’s an example of the quick-clean routine that I use every morning:

  1. Check the spam folder and fix false positives (usually zero), then empty the rest
  2. Glance through promotions/sales/ads and delete them once viewed (or right away!)
  3. Glance through notifications and delete what doesn’t require follow-up
  4. Fully read through any remaining messages that will take less than 2 minutes

That’s it! 🎯

When I started my day this morning, I had 22 messages that had arrived overnight. With my quick-clean routine, I got rid of 20 of them in about five minutes. I spent only five seconds or less on most of them and fully read through only one. The other two require more time; I’ll get to those later.

You don’t need to do exactly what I do.
You don’t need to do it every day.
You don’t need to do it in the morning.
…but you do need to practice doing whatever you choose regularly. 📅🔔⏰

If you aren’t sure which tasks make the most sense for you, pick just one task–even if it’s spam clean-up. Convince yourself that building a quick-clean routine is possible, then layer in another task. Slow progress is excellent; it’s still progress. See how the first try goes. Ignore the time-consuming messages and look for a few you can process quickly. Learn to delete based just on sender/subject combinations. Practice until you feel comfortable making those quick decisions that save time and attention.

If you’d like feedback on the tasks you’ve chosen for your quick-clean routine, reply with a question to this email or reach out on this week’s Tidy Bytes Community Facebook group post.

How Does This Help?

Routines make challenging tasks possible. They make the difference between achieving goals and fizzling out after an exciting start. They provide a tangible path between where you are now and where you want to be, even if it seems impossibly far away. You can’t get to the top of a mountain in one leap, but a few thousand small steps will bring you there just the same.

Establishing a quick-clean routine helps your brain get used to rapidly triaging incoming information. Everyone wants your attention, but only some deserve it. This routine provides a high-level framework to help you choose where to allocate your attention among everyone clamoring for it.

Everyone loves attacking “low-hanging fruit” on a to-do list–the things we can finish quickly and easily, especially if those tasks have extra-visible results. This inbox-cleaning routine is just that: a mechanism to get rid of the bulk of what comes in (extra-visible!) in very little time (quick and easy!), leaving only a few things to deal with later when we can afford to spend 20-30 minutes on a single message.

Who Does This Help?

If you’re not used to attacking your inbox like this, you’re in for a treat. Although it takes practice to become proficient, your first attempt will likely feel refreshingly simple and rewarding.

The quick-clean routine is especially useful if you regularly feel unable to make visible progress cleaning up your inbox. Do you have too many messages? Yes! But you don’t have to get rid of them all at once. Do the easy ones first, and the (hopefully) few left over won’t feel so daunting.

Who Does This NOT Help?

If you don’t receive that many messages, a quick-clean routine won’t help much. You might still pick up some good habits, especially if you become proficient at snap-decision triage. But generally, this mainly benefits inboxes receiving at least a few dozen messages or more every day, but where 80% of what comes in requires very little attention and no follow-up.

Or, if you’ve tried this before and found that most of your email actually does require special attention, a quick-clean routine will only make a small dent. For example, if you primarily correspond with friends and family and diligently read every newsletter you subscribe to, and you’ve avoided getting on a bunch of promotional mailing lists, this routine might not be for you.

Quick Review

For Week 4, your task is to build a quick-clean routine. Make a list of just a few tasks you can finish quickly to deal with the “low-hanging fruit” of inbox cleanup (such as a spam check, ad deletion, and notification check). If you have questions about this task or anything related to digital organization, reply to this email or comment on this week’s Tidy Bytes Community Facebook group post.

Happy data-taming!

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