Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


My scattered brain

Lately, I have been working on uncluttering my inbox. Sure, in the spirit of Getting Things Done, I "get In to empty" every day, but I realized I've been processing waaay too many messages that have little or no relevance to me, and handling too many pieces of paper. I want to share some of the things I've done, and hear from you about additional steps you may have taken to trim down your inbox.

Spam filtering

I've experimented with a number of add-on spam filters for Outlook (most of them have free trials) and have settled on Cloudmark Desktop, and am quite happy with it. It's very easy to use, and is based on a 'neighborhood watch' kind of model - all users are able to report things they believe are spam, and messages flagged by enough people are reviewed and added to the spam list, if appropriate. Likewise, if you find a message that you think was mis-identified as spam, you can unblock it which unblocks it for you (this sometimes happens when people who are too lazy to unsubscribe to messages just hit the Block button on the toolbar instead). At right is a snapshot of my stats since I started using it in January, for perspective.
Unsubscribe more aggressively
I've been paying more attention to newsletters, Google alerts, and other recurring email traffic and unsubscribing from them if I notice that I always (or almost always) delete them without reading. Same goes for offers from vendors I've purchased from, particularly if I'm no longer using their product.
I've also been unsubscribing to physical mail, as well. Letting magazine subscriptions end, returning unsolicited or unwanted mail (in their own postpaid envelopes with a note asking them to remove me from their mailing lists), and so forth.
Deleting, rather than responding to more email
I'm getting better at not jumping into the fray on email threads that don't directly pertain to me or my primary goals. I'm seeing a gradual, but persisten, decline in mail volume from this. Once I realize I no longer want to follow an email thread, I use ClearContext's "Unsubscribe" button to make it disappear from my view (don't fret - it puts these things in a special Unsubscribed folder where you can go re-subscribe if you make a mistake).
Automate recurring bills
Last year, I wrote about "outsourcing the drudgery" in my life. I've now gone a bit further and set up every service I can as an "autopay" account, and converting to electronic statements if they offer them (this allows me to easily use NitroPDF to mark them up and forward them for expense reporting, and makes it easy for me to file the statements electronically so I can retrieve them if I need to.
Back off on the email "whack a mole"
When I first discovered the joy of an empty email inbox, I constantly watched it and tried to keep it empty. Now, I only "work" my email inbox about 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in the afternoon, and sometimes a quick check in the evening. And I still get to empty every day.
This helps partially because it prevents "rathole emailing" since many problems have resolved themselves by the time I see them. It also helps because the limited time windows help me do a better job of sticking to the 2-minute rule, etc.
I shared my tips for getting a very large email inbox down to a very empty one a while back - if your inbox is overloaded, this may help.
And I'm still looking for more ways. What about you? Any tricks you've discovered that you'd like to share?