Start 2021 with a clear inbox!

Woman checking her email in a meeting

Clutter is not good for us, whether physical, emotional – or electronic! It leads to us feeling overwhelmed, distracted and muddled – unable to differentiate between what is important, what is urgent, and what is neither. When we have organisation and order, we feel much calmer, we have more clarity and space to think/work/create, and find it much harder to procrastinate, leading us to be more focussed and achieve better results.

As the new year has just started, most of us are clearing out and creating space for the year ahead. Whether this is simply physically tidying your desk, or reorganising your office, or mentally in reviewing your goals and ambitions and clearing out any negativity that you may have brought with you from the chaos of 2020. The new year is a perfect time for making a clean start, renewing focus and commitment and generating positive energy.

One of the areas that is often overlooked however, is the digital space.We probably spend as much of our work time in it as we do the physical space – particularly in these days where most of us are still largely working from home.

I tried to clear my online space before the festive period, but I still started 2021 with 36 emails sat in my inbox which has been there from last year (all low priority pending actions). They haunt me and drag me down every time I open my inbox, making me feel unaccomplished and distracting me from doing other more pressing work.

At the same time, the screenshots and on the go documents I’ve been saving have going to my desktop, the odd one now and again over the festive period, but they’ve now accumulated to fill my screen – not the welcome I want whenever I open my laptop! And don’t get me started on my social media! You’ll notice as of last week, I’ve made a concerted effort and commitment to posting regular content again, but I have numerous comments that deserve a response, which is as yet still pending.

So how can we tackle the mountain that seems to have developed from these simple daily tasks which have been left unchecked over the last few weeks? I have a few tips which I am going to put into practice myself over the next two weeks, to ensure that I end this month with everything clear.

1. To get started, take the radical move of creating an email folder called 2020 and drag all emails in your inbox from last year into this folder. It is still a pending folder and you have them there, but at least they won’t be the first thing you see when you open your inbox and you won’t lose any new emails amongst the old clutter.

2. If you have huge numbers of unorganised documents on your desktop, follow the same logic and put them all into a folder called 2020, which you can review and organise gradually over the next couple of weeks, whilst giving yourself a nice clean screen to open up to everyday.

3. Review the 50-100 most recent emails and set up email rules to keep non-essential emails, like newsletters or cc’s from certain people, in dedicated folders. This again means you have them all to review when you have the time, without them filling up your inbox as you move forward.

4. Take a look at all the newsletters – do you really read them? If you haven’t opened any of them over the last six months, do you still want to be subscribed? The content will be available on their websites for you to review at any time still, without you getting it delivered in a newsletter that you never read.

5. Review your spam folder – and the spam emails that accumulate in your inbox. Unfortunately despite the increasing focus on data privacy and protection, many people still view receiving your business card as a green light to add you to their mailing lists (and potentially the mailing lists of others!) rather than simply deleting these emails on a daily or weekly basis, take some time now to unsubscribe from the mailing lists you are not interested in. It should only be one additional click and it will save you so much time and effort on a daily basis at the start of your day, when you should be focussed on work.

6. Review your calendar, and make sure all recurring meetings are still current. Make sure you have the correct times and dates for your recurring events and meetings, add the public holidays for the year and check that any celebratory days are still valid to you. Schedule time in your calendar for thinking/writing or any other brain intense work so that this time is kept clear for interruptions and does not get overlooked, even when things are busy.

6. Set aside 2-3 blocks of time (30-45 mins) per day (first thing, at lunchtime, and before you finish work). The first one is to check your new emails that day and streamline your inbox, the second block of time is to address the emails from your 2020 folder and anything that has come in during the morning, and the final block of the day to review any new emails from the day. For the rest of the day, turn off your email notifications so that you can focus on your work and not keep being pulled back to your inbox every time a new email comes in

7. Switch your phone to silent and turn off social media notifications for at least one hour per day to allow you to focus on progressing an important (but possibly not urgent) project or action, such as clearing the 2020 folders that have been created, or writing a weekly blog post or social media content.

8. Review your week when you get to the end of it. Write a to-do list for the week ahead before you turn off your computer at the start of the weekend. You can switch off knowing that you are organised for the week ahead, and you can start your week when you are feeling most motivated and inspired by diving straight into the important actions, rather than spending an hour planning what you are going to do.

I’ve made a start with these now, and I’ve committed to it here in black and white, so let’s see how I go! Would love to hear everyone else’s progress, and any tips for clearing out and setting up good habits for the year ahead. Good luck everyone!

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