The Unexpected Result of Taking Control of Your Inbox

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Keeping up with my various email inboxes has always been a struggle. I go through phases of being very diligent about responding to and filing every single email. But then a busy week will hit or my routine is thrown out of whack and I miss one day. And then another, and another and soon that count is creeping into the 3 digits. 100, 200, 500 emails in my inbox.

For work, there’s always a bit more motivation to get back in there and clean things up. Clients are waiting on me, the boss is checking in, and my performance on the job depends on being available and being responsive.

But my personal inbox? That’s a whole other story. It’s full of retail emails, newsletters, online purchase confirmations, and quick notes and reminders from my husband.

It got to the point recently where I considered scrapping the entire thing and opening up a new email account altogether.

What Is Stuff?

Think about it. When we think of the “stuff” in our lives, sure, we think of our clothes, our food, our paperwork, toys, tools, etc. etc. But we also have tons of digital “stuff” too.

If every time you opened your refrigerator you were faced with thousands of items overflowing the shelves and drawers, you’d close that door and order take-out faster than you could count to 3! No question.

Well, the same is true of your inbox. You open it how many times a day on average? 3, 5, 10, 20? And what do you feel every time you log into that inbox and see all that clutter?

You feel overwhelmed, frustrated, out-of-control, disgusted, and exhausted.

Enough IS Enough

I finally decided enough was enough. I wanted to know what was in my inbox and I wanted to know where it was. I need to know what I had to do and who needed a response from me. I wanted to feel in control!

After about a week of making changes and slowly taking back control of my personal inbox, I can tell you it feels amazing. I honestly didn’t expect it to have such an impact on me, but it has.

The motivation and momentum I have gained from making decisions and deleting emails is bleeding over into other areas of my life. I’ve instituted a “quick action” policy in my work inbox as well which has helped immensely in keeping my projects and client work moving forward. I’ve started tackling my household paperwork with the hopes that it will give me a similar sense of control. And I don’t plan on stopping there.

If you’re like me, and tired of looking at an overwhelmingly cluttered and out-of-control inbox, try a few of these tricks to get the clean-up process underway.

1. Create a Simple Folder/Label System

Before you can start going through that massive inbox, you’ll need a place to store emails that you might want to reference in the future, but don’t need to be front and center every day.

Try to keep the number of “reference” folders that you create limited. Here are a few key ones for me to give you a starting point:

  • Online Purchases - so I can reference what I bought, in case I need to return it, or track a package.

  • Financial - emails with my CPA or regarding retirement accounts, etc. go here.

  • To Buy - if I do get a promotional email of something I want to buy in the future for the house, or as a gift, I file it here.

  • To Read - I’ll put content emails here that I know I want to read, but don’t have time for right now. Then when I have a few minutes, I open this folder and pick one to read and then delete.

2. Decide How to Handle Promotional Emails

We all sign up for offers, freebies, and discount codes and they all require one thing - our email address. Once we’ve opted in, we then start getting regular emails about new items, sales, coupons and the volume of those emails over all the brands we’ve signed up with is the source of SO MUCH of our email clutter. There are 3 options as I see them for dealing with this clutter:

  • Option 1 - Start unsubscribing. You can use unrollme or do this the manual way, but if there are brands that you signed up with just for the discount code that one time and no longer want to buy from, just unsubscribe. You won’t be out of the loop. And you can always resubscribe later if you miss getting email from them.

  • Option 2 - Write email routing rules or manually drag these promotional emails into a folder called “Shopping” or “Coupons” or “Promotions” and go there when you are in search of something that you need to buy and you want to see if you have a 20% coupon waiting for you. BuyBuyBaby is a great example of this.

  • Option 3 - Open a separate email address that you only use when you sign up for things. Then whenever you make an online purchase or need to track a package, you log in there and search for that specific email. But otherwise, those promo emails stay out of your main inbox. Just be sure you transfer or unsubscribe from everything where you used your “main email address”.

3. Start From Scratch

Sometimes the volume of emails in your inbox is just too overwhelming. There’s no way you could ever sort through them all. It would take you months or a year of diligent work and who has that kind of time? It’s probably one of the top reasons we don’t clean up our inbox. It just feels like too much.

So what if you gave yourself a get-out-of-jail-free card? What if you took all the emails that aren’t from the last few weeks, and you filed them into a folder called “OLD EMAILS TO SORT LATER”? Wow! Now that inbox feels doable. You get the instant satisfaction of having a clean inbox. And instead of logging in each day and feeling totally overwhelmed, you can log in each day and make a conscious choice to open up that OLD EMAILS TO SORT folder and commit to cleaning out all of last month’s emails and take it bit by bit as you have time and energy.

The key and your number one priority should be to maintain this beautiful inbox that you have given yourself. Sorting old emails comes second.

I give you permission. Start fresh.

You’ve Got This

I still have work to do in my inboxes, but I cannot reiterate enough how much satisfaction and feeling of control this has given me. Working motherhood is about juggling lots of responsibilities and keeping many things running smoothly. Sometimes our own personal spaces, just like our own personal care, can come second.

I’m here to tell you that when we put purposeful time into those things that are ours, everyone feels the result. And email may seem silly and trivial when we’re faced with much greater challenges in the workplace, in parenting, and in our relationships, but eliminating areas where we feel out of control should still always be a priority, no matter how small they feel. It all adds up. And when we feel in control, we start to eliminate feelings of overwhelm. We start to feel better. We start to create more space in our lives to just be, instead of always worrying about what you forgot or what ball you dropped. You’ve got this.

If you have any other amazing email inbox tips that work for you, I want to know!! Please send me an email (katelyn@themothernurture.com) or DM @lovemothernurture so I can share your tips here.