Help, My Inbox Is Kicking My Arse!

Okay, I am totally stressed out and I need your help.  Do you want to know how many emails I have in my inbox at work? 1,197. Yes, you read that right. Over one thousand emails in my inbox. In that one thousand are probably about forty that require my attention. The question is, how do I identify those forty? I really can’t even tell you how I managed to amass such a ridiculous number of emails. It started when I was on maternity leave. I came back to over a thousand emails in my inbox and couldn’t find the time to make my way through it.

The emails continued to flow in each day, and I never managed to make a huge dent in the backlog. As the months have gone on, I have kept steady — take care of most new emails, dig into the backlog, some new emails build up, and at the end of the day I’m still at 1,100+.

Did I mention this is causing me a lot of stress? Sometimes, I consider just deleting everything (declaring email bankruptcy) and starting fresh.

But, I worry about those forty messages hiding in there that require my attention or contain some important information.

I’m really not sure what to do. How can I find time to go through over a thousand emails? Even if I do just delete everything, how can I keep on top of my emails moving forward? How can I reach the nirvana of a clear inbox?

What is your strategy for keeping control of your inbox? Do you file things into folders? Archive everything? Delete things quickly? Respond immediately?  Help!

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7 Responses to Help, My Inbox Is Kicking My Arse!

  1. Rach says:

    Oh my good golly gosh, over ONE THOUSAND emails?!?! What on earth? I cannot even imagine! I feel overwhelmed when I have 20 and if I have 100 after being on vacay I feel a bit faint. I cannot even imagine over 1000 emails! Good luck with that.

    If something needs immediate attention then I respond to it as soon as I get it. If it’s just a friend catching up (usually this is more like Facebook, but occasionally email) then I mark it as unread and come back to it when I have more time. I get 4 or 5 recipe emails a day so I quickly glance at it and if it’s something I’m not interested in I delete it. If I think I might make it then I file it away. But again, I’ve never been faced with 1000+ emails!

  2. Holy heck! how do you manage that many emails? who are they from?!

  3. Cherry Lane says:

    Hmmm….I haven’t tried this yet, but: would sorting by sender help? Are there some people that you know usually send important stuff, others that usually just send nice-to-know stuff, and others that always send junk? That could help with mass-deleting a *portion* of your inbox.

  4. Fianna says:

    I sort by subject to whittle them down first. I love folders! After you get it narrowed down a nit, then sort by sender. I can’t handle more than a screen full of emails in my inbox. I would take an hour in the morning and an hour after lunch to try to get it cleaned up. Good luck. I am tense for you!

  5. J.D. says:

    Just this morning, The Guardian published an article by Cory Doctorow which explains my philosophy fairly well: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/feb/22/information-overload-probabilistic

    In short, it’s easier to look at many information sources as a stream; it’s not necessary to catch up on every message on Twitter or Facebook (or IRC or usenet, back when we used those), and I’d go further to say that that’s true of a lot of email conversations as well. Sometimes context helps, but often it’s not included anyway.

    Cory is responding to a presentation from Clay Shirky titled “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure,” which definitely applies where we work: http://web2expo.blip.tv/file/1277460

    I’ve got a combination of automated filters — such as dumping anything sent to some of the big distribution lists unless it’s also addressed directly to me — and mental filters, where I look at who it’s from and who it’s to and quickly decide whether to quickly scan or actually pay attention to the message.

    Then there’s the to-do list…and there’s an item on my to-do list which reminds me I should write an article about how I manage to-do lists. *grin*

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