Marie Kondo has shown us the magic of a decluttered home and though minimalism seems like a fad, decluttering in general has been linked to a general wellbeing and better mental health.
A concept that has now extended to one’s digital life. It’s not controversial to say we spend equally as much time in the digital world as in the material world thanks to the digitalization of many analog processes. If not more so.
Why is decluttering your inbox so important for your productivity?
The inbox is taken more or less as granted. Always there. Ubiquitous and therefore not worth your time and consideration. However, I would like to argue your inbox is the backbone of any office job and you’re simply not embracing your work potential by disregarding your inbox.
A decluttered inbox increases your productivity in a few key areas, which stack together to fully reinvigorate your work day.
Find what you need easier
Finding a single email through the avalanche of old project emails, meeting threads, promotional emails and non-essential subscriptions is more akin to a high quest. You lose valuable time and focus scrolling through your inbox or searching by recipient. Sometimes you might even ask a colleague about the thread or use filters based on keywords or whether there’s an attachment.
Do you really need to be a detective every time you need to find something? No. I have yet to find someone who prefers their inbox this way. A decluttered and organized inbox works with you and not against you. With the right system in place you can locate exactly what you need in seconds and get on with your day.
Saves you time
Perhaps the biggest benefit to having a decluttered inbox is the time gained. Sure, we are talking about seconds, but valuable seconds, which accumulate over time and streamline the workflow overall. Say goodbye to endless scrolling and wondering what the subject of a specific email was in order to find it.
Ultimately your work day is about your actual responsibilities and not fiddling with your inbox. A useful side benefit is the sheer reduction in overall stress and focus retention over the course of a day.
Do not read things you are not interested in
There’s the temptation to subscribe to websites that appear interesting at the time in the hopes that you’ll start reading, but that’s no better than putting the cart before the ox and hoping for the best. It’s not realistic and certainly no way to change your reading habits.
Or perhaps you have committed yourself to subscriptions you once found interesting, but now read out of obligation and habit. It’s as equally important to question whether you should really pour your time and focus on material you’ve outgrown.
5 easy ways to declutter your inbox
So where do we begin? How do I achieve the coveted inbox zero?
It’s not as arduous as one might think as most think. Best results come from small, incremental changes over time rather than any big effort. You also have to think critically about what arrives in your inbox and whether it has a place there.
Make cleaning your inbox a regular habit
Before we discuss any strategies, we have to cover mindset – you won’t achieve any results unless you commit to decluttering your inbox every day. As soon as you’ve answered an email, move it out of the inbox. Has an annoying subscription made its way to the inbox? Click delete.
Building a regular practice reduces clutter and eliminates one of the most overlooked bottlenecks to better job performance on a day-to-day basis. If you’ve already amassed hundreds of emails, do not try to declutter in one go – you’ll only overwhelm yourself and abandon the project altogether.
Ulilize spam filters
No matter how careful you are with where you put your email address, you’re going to find yourself on a mailing list eventually. Even if unsubscribe from the website itself, some websites are notoriously difficult to run away from.
Hitting delete won’t cut it either. Hence, turn to spam! It’s the easiest way to ensure you won’t be bothered again. If you want better control over what is considered spam, dig into the spam filters in your email client.
Use RSS feed reader
Newsletters are excellent in theory and annoying in practice. The format is not that conductive to the general workflow of an office worker and websites tend to overstay their welcome with daily digests (sometimes multiple times per day). RSS feed readers can help you migrate subscriptions away from your inbox as there are free tools like Kill the Newsletter available. Some readers have built-in support for newsletters like Inoreader.
Start using folders
The best way to know what’s in your inbox is to reduce your emails to the first page. Inbox zero has become the aspiration of the last decade in terms of productivity and a major tool to assist you is folders. You can create as many as you need, though simpler is always better.
Break down your incoming mail into major categories based on your work responsibilities. This way you have a broader overview of your workflow. If you’re involved with a major project that generates copious correspondence, it’s time to add a new folder – also an easy way to reference past work later on.
Unsubscribe to some websites
Last, examine your reading habits. We all have those subscriptions we aspire to read, because we think we’ll be better cultured or informed, but never get to in the end for one reason or another. It is OK to admit you’re not going to religiously follow the WIRED daily newsletter – you have my permission to click on the unsubscribe button.
I didn’t change my relationship to my reading until I let go of the maximalist mindset and removed a great chunk of my subscriptions. Pare down your subscriptions to the essentials.