January Simplicity Challenge – Zero Out Your Inbox

One of my goals for this year is to simplify, simplify, simplify.  After living out of a car for close to two years, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and freedom of living with fewer things.  But simplicity is not always about objects.  There are many things that clutter our lives – commitments, electronic distractions, friends or family that bring us down, unhealthy habits, and on and on.

Each month I am going to issue a challenge to simplify some part of my, and if you’ll join me, your life.  Since we won’t be moved into a new space until later this month (details in a future post!), I’m going to focus on simplifying a non-stuff area of my life this month – Email.

Simplicity Challenge - Empty Your InboxMy goal, which I’ve admittedly been working towards for the past two months, is to have zero emails in my inboxes at least once a week.  For me, that means hitting zero in each of my two email inboxes each Friday.  Don’t run away too fast, that goal may not be appropriate for you, yet, but you can surely get there.  Stick to the personal accounts right now, and try a few of the following things to get you on your way.

1. Count how many emails you have in your inbox.  If you’re like me and you delete or save your emails into folders after your respond, then you should (hopefully) have less than 100 emails in your inbox.  If this is the case, go through your inbox quickly and delete or file away anything that is in there that you’ve read and do not need to address or that you do not need to read.

2. Give yourself a goal to address three, five, ten emails a day.  The number will depend upon how many emails you have to cull through and how ambitious you are.  Make it reasonable, but pick a number that will get you somewhere.

3. Once you’re down to the emails that will take longer to address, limit yourself to addressing one or two per day.

4. Pretty soon you’ll be getting close to the beauty of an empty inbox.  Keep plugging away until you get there.  Don’t stop at an inbox with three emails or five or even one.  Those last few will be the hardest, but they’re also the most important to address.

5. Once you hit zero, make it a goal to continue to hit it at least once a week.  If you don’t do this, the emails will just build up again, silently asking you to do something each time you log in to your account.

6. Along the way, you will get new emails (duh!).  Respond to these as you get them.  Don’t let them linger.

7. Most importantly, take preventative action.  Take yourself off of every single mailing list that does not serve you.  Don’t reflexively delete like I used to do.  Consider each email you get and if it is something that you would delete without thinking, then take yourself off that mailing list right now.  The best way I have found to do this is to spend one week not deleting anything from my email before first opening it, considering it, and then responding, reading, or unsubscribing.  It takes a bit of remembering not to just delete away on my phone, but I am always thankful the following week when the flow of junk has subsided.

Do you already subscribe to the philosophy of an empty inbox?  If not, try it.  See if it makes you calmer and takes one thing away from your mental to-do list.  It has forced me to respond to emails I had been putting off responding to for months and, in some cases, years.  Freeing up the mental space, tiny as it was, devoted to those unanswered emails allows me to spend that space on more important pursuits.  Plus, cutting out the junk helps me to limit the advertising to which I’m exposed.  But, most importantly, an empty inbox helps me to be more prompt and thoughtful in getting back to people.  And connecting with people is what this is about, right?

[Editor’s Note: A comment from a friend sent me to check out Yesterbox.  This is another way of trying to master the inbox instead of letting it master you.  Thanks for the heads up, Adam.]

After sharing my goals here and in a couple of groups that I belong to, simplifying seemed to resonate with many of you.  I will be sharing Simplicity Challenges each month of 2015 to help motivate us to meet our goals.  Please join with me and let me know your progress at the end of each month.  If you’re on twitter, you can follow me at @bottlemoonlight and tweet about the challenge using #simplicitychallenge.  If you participate in each of the monthly Simplicity Challenges this year (please let me know in the comments on each Challenge post) and sign up to receive my posts via email (upper right), expect something awesome from me at the end of the year as a huge thank you for taking the journey with me.