Raise your hand if you have hundreds of unanswered emails in your inbox. Is your hand as high as ours is right now? Don't be embarrassed — you're not alone.
Your inbox is probably overflowing with emails you haven't had a chance to read, weekly newsletters you stopped caring about years ago, endless coupons from stores you no longer shop at, and way too many invitations to baby showers and birthday parties. Add those to important work and family-related emails and you're left with the perfect recipe for anxiety and stress.
We tell ourselves we'll eventually read those messages (or at least delete the old ones), but we never do. There is hope, though: Minimalist gurus Pastaveia and Sean St. John of Eco-Conscious Minimalists are back for week two of our spring cleaning series to help you tackle the mountain of emails before it tackles you first.
1. Lose the FOMO mentality and unsubscribe.
The infamous FOMO (fear of missing out) is usually the reason we check our email multiple times a day and sign up for so many needless newsletters and daily subscriptions. Because of all the extra clutter, we end up neglecting important tasks and feeling straight-up overwhelmed.
"There's this fear that if I'm not engaged and not checking everything that's marked new, I'm missing out on something," Sean says. "That's where unneeded stress comes. That email will be there tomorrow."
Pastaveia agrees: "Mentally, people get a little high from that pop-up window telling them they have a new message. We feel important; however, there comes a point when you have to realize that email is just a tool — it's not your arm, it's not air, and it's not food. You think you're going to miss something, but the beauty of being an adult is that you have the power to say no."
The St. Johns suggest taking 20 minutes to go through your unwanted subscriptions and hit the unsubscribe button. (It feels really good — promise.) We recommend trying the oh-so-handy Unroll.Me, which is a free tool that helps you unsubscribe from all of your unwanted newsletters in one place (and also offers the option of consolidating all the newsletters you do still want to subscribe to into one daily digest). Easy peasy.
"It might be difficult going through everything, but if you take time to unsubscribe,1,000 emails won't become 2,000 or 3,000," Pastaveia says.
There comes a point when you have to realize that email is just a tool — it's not your arm, it's not air, and it's not food.
2. Consolidate and organize.
Multiple email addresses are never a good idea. Try to narrow your plethora of inboxes down to just two — one for work and one for personal emails.
"At one point, I had six email addresses, not including my work address. I thought I needed those, but I didn't," Pastaveia admits. "After a while, it was just too much for me. I was creating unnecessary stress."
Now Pastaveia is down to one personal address. As for staying organized, she highly recommends setting up folders within the inbox where different emails can be stored by category.
3. Delete, delete, and delete some more.
Pastaveia and Sean suggest going through your inbox at least once a week for a major purge.
"Do it at the end of the week," Pastaveia says. "If you're pressed for time during the work day, delete messages during your train ride home. If you drive, do it Friday night or Saturday morning."
Not sure if you're ready to erase a particular email? Sean recommends storing important or sentimental messages and photos in your iCloud or on a flash or external hard drive. Many email clients also offer the option of "archiving" emails, which means they are saved forever but not visible in your inbox anymore.
4. Turn off notifications and set boundaries.
Instead of letting your inbox take control, focus on having a little discipline. The St. Johns check their emails only four times during the work day — once in the morning and every 2.5 hours after that. They also turn off their notifications while working on a project or doing a task.
Pastaveia even turns on an out-of-office auto-response if she's working on a project and can't be disturbed, or if she and Sean have a day where they're completely unplugged from email, social media, and the Internet. Sounds refreshing, huh?
"The out-of-office message lets people know that just because I didn't respond in 15 minutes, that doesn't mean I didn't get the message," she says. "It also doesn't set the expectation that I'm going to respond to you in 15 minutes, either."
Next week: Decluttering your cell phone.
(Last week: Decluttering your refrigerator.)