Happy Tidy Tuesday!

It’s the beginning of Review Month in Tidy ’24. We’re coming up on half a year of material, and I want to take a break from new stuff and spend a week on each of the first four topics we’ve covered: email, photos, apps, and tasks. (I figure the Mindset Month topics are still pretty fresh, and June this year only has four Tuesdays, so we’re just reviewing the first four.)

If you want to dig into the detailed weekly topics for what we’re reviewing this month, visit the Tidy ’24 Calendar page and scroll up to January.

Review Week 1: Email Organization

For this first week in Review Month, we’re looking back at email management. What did we cover during email month?

Email Week 1: Archive Everything

In the first week, we started with a trick that’s something of a shortcut to help you quickly get some breathing room: archive everything. It’s an immediate (although temporary) path to Inbox Zero.

  1. Go to your inbox
  2. Select all messages there
  3. Move them to a new folder (or label, in Gmail) named “Archive 2023” or whatever makes sense to you

Although this might feel like cheating, it’s really not. The point isn’t that you’re pretending to be magically organized. Simply moving your vast collection of old email out of your inbox breaks down the psychological barrier of staring at hundreds or thousands of messages you feel unable to address. Maybe, right now, you are unable to address them. But you don’t have to–not right away. Organizing old email is different from managing new email, and it’s easier to go back to the old if and when there’s a real need to, once you get comfortable managing what’s coming in regularly.

Inbox Zero is like a clean desktop, a kitchen counter without anything on it, or a bedroom with everything put away. It’s a temporary state, but it allows us to focus on other tasks without the distraction of clutter and chaos.

Email Week 2: Unsubscribe Without Mercy

For the second week, we followed up the bulk archiving process with a related step to make it into a powerful one-two punch: unsubscribe without mercy. This is always one of my favorites; it’s cathartic, removing yourself over and over from perhaps dozens of mailings, digitally telling people to stop bugging you.

  1. Go to your inbox.
  2. Look at the messages that arrived since you archived everything.
  3. For every message that doesn’t add real, tangible, obvious value to your life, unsubscribe. You can always re-subscribe later if you miss it.

That last step is subjective but absolutely worth doing regularly. Once you get comfortable identifying the low-value email you receive and unsubscribing, you’ll find it much easier to keep things from piling up in your inbox. Remember, your email is someone else’s to-do list. Only let things in if they’re worth your time and attention.

Email Week 3: Simplify Your Folders

In the third week of Email Month, we added a bit of organization structure by simplifying your folders. (Or labels, if you use a label-based platform like Gmail.) The goal here is to give yourself a good balance of different “buckets” for keeping messages you’ve already processed but want to hold on to. Not too many, because that gets hard to manage pretty fast, but also not too few, because then they’re barely helpful.

  1. Review the messages that have arrived over the last week or two that are worth keeping
  2. Consider a small set of high-level categories that could reasonably contain them
  3. Create folders (or labels) for these categories and move any messages you’ve already read into those folders

Aim for a maximum of a dozen; this isn’t a hard limit, but it’s a good starting point. Keeping track of that many categories in your head is reasonable, and keeping the number small helps ensure everything is distinct between categories. The idea is to figure out where a message belongs quickly without wondering which place it fits in better.

Once you’ve created those folders, practice sorting messages into them immediately after you’ve read or responded as needed–assuming, of course, you aren’t just going to delete that message.

Email Week 4: Quick-Clean Routine

For Week 4, we covered another one of my favorite practices, which is what I call the “quick-clean routine.” It’s the key to keeping your inbox manageable, the difference between barely keeping your digital head above water and being in control.

  1. Write down a short list of email organization tasks to do in 10 minutes or less
  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

What you want here are the tasks that you know will take little time. Don’t worry about replying to every message or reading that fascinating finance newsletter. Process the messages that only need five seconds. Practice deleting the promotional emails without reading them because you know you don’t need to buy anything from that store right now.

Here’s an example of the quick-clean routine I do 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

This generally leaves me with no more than one or two emails that I need to spend more significant time on later in the day. Your goal is to quickly eliminate the majority, leaving only the few time-consuming items for a different dedicated part of your day or week.

Email Week 5: Leverage Good Tools

We wrapped up the fifth week of Email Month by exploring a few services that can streamline your email organization efforts. We looked over five tools:

These are only some of the tools out there, and whether they’re a good fit for you depends on exactly which problems you want to solve. I recommend reviewing that week’s video or article specifically if you want the details, but generally I’d say check out SaneBox or Clean Email if you’re mainly focused on personal use, or possibly Superhuman if you’re more business-focused and you have to communicate with your team a lot.

Summary

That was a quick trip through a lot of material! I hope you found it a good reminder, or a good introduction if you weren’t there the first time through earlier this year.

If you have any questions or ideas about email organization, comment below or send me a message. I always love hearing from you, especially if you have specific problems or challenges you’d like me to cover.

Happy data-taming!

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