Last month we discussed the importance of putting systems in place at work in order to improve productivity. This month we’re going to continue with the theme, but we’re going a little closer to home.  Let’s talk about systems for culling and organizing the things most of us encounter regularly and frequently throughout the day. With the bustling holiday season upon us, the message seems timely.  These techniques will decrease your frustration and boost your personal productivity during this busy holiday season and every day! They’ll truly payoff year-round. 

Email Organization

If you follow me, you know I talk about email a lot.  There’s a reason for that.  It is estimated 196 million emails are sent worldwide every minute.  Talk about digital overload!  I’ve shared processes you can put in place to manage your inbox efficiently.  One very big one is to create email rules and folders for archiving the emails you need to keep.  But, today, let’s talk about a clean-up.  How might you tackle an inbox you have rarely if ever, purged? Consider following these four steps for a fast, efficient clean-up.

  1. I recommend a one-bite-at-a-time approach. Set aside 10 or 15 minutes a day to tackle the project.  Honor your time commitment.  Set a timer. When it goes off, you’re done for the day.  Schedule time for the next day.
  2. A good way to handle a large showing in your main inbox, Archive or Trash folder is to begin by sorting by date.  Determine the timeframe you feel is necessary to retain emails.  I generally recommend three years, but a number of factors will drive your personal timing.  Delete all emails that fall outside your timeframe and move forward.
  3. For some, a blanket time-based organizing system is not comfortable or practical.  Another approach is to sort by the sender and begin your deleting.  You can delete all retailer emails except the most recent ones.   Then try sorting by non-relevant contacts, i.e. former coaches, previous teachers for your children, inactive clients, former employees, etc. Within this model of archiving the unnecessary, you may still find a timeframe-driven cleanout makes sense for some senders.
  4.  Usually, with just one click you can empty your Junk email folder.  A good way to protect space on your email server is to routinely empty the Junk/Spam folder. Try incorporating this into your monthly routine.

Retailer Email Management

Retailers are required to include an unsubscribe link with their promotional emails.  This is certainly a good-to-know this time of year when promotional emails are at a peak. You can easily find yourself “surprise subscribed” to a new retailer after placing a gift order or making a purchase for yourself.  Unsubscribe from retailers you are no longer interested in receiving communication from; don’t just keep deleting them. Or, try moving an undesired retailer’s email to your junk email folder.  Most email processors will automatically deliver that retailer’s future emails directly to the junk email folder going forward.    

Manage the Voicemail Inbox

There is nothing more frustrating than getting the “The person you are trying to reach has a mailbox that is full” message when attempting to reach someone.  Your voice mailbox has a limit.  If you haven’t reached it yet, and you are someone who does not routinely delete old voice messages, you will reach that limit. And it will be at the most inconvenient time.

A full voice mailbox sends an unprofessional message to the caller.  Take the time to delete your voice message after you have listened to it.  If you’re concerned you might need to revisit it in the near future, I understand keeping it temporarily.  But, I suggest you make it your routine to take a peek (most voice message systems are visual now) at the last message received when you are in the voice message list.  If you see an old one you no longer need, go ahead and delete that one while you are in there. Never managed your voicemail inbox? Set aside a few minutes this week to get in there and do some deleting.  

If you receive a large number of voicemails on a daily basis, block off time on your calendar each day to process the new and delete the old messages you no longer need. Some people leave a voice message and then send a text message. Even if the text satisfied the original intent of the voice message, that voice message still needs to be deleted.

Organize the Physical Inbox with a Weekly Review

Our physical inboxes need attention, too. Do you have a stale inbox? Maybe you’ve got some material lurking down at the bottom of the pile you KNOW you’re not going back to.  It may have seemed like something you might want to process when you stuck it in there, but it is now no longer relevant or worthy of your attention.  Set aside 15 minutes (maybe 30 if you’ve got an impressive stack) to go through the inbox.  Be discerning and frank.  Ask yourself if what you find is of value to you at present.  Is it something you need to do? Put it on your task list.  If you are anxious about tossing something, file it away.  I’m not a big fan of hard copies.  If you must keep it, scan it and store it away digitally. Needs are going to vary based on your lifestyle, but I recommend getting in the habit of reviewing your inbox once a week.  

A note of caution.  Respect the time limit you have set for yourself for the inbox culling, too.  Now is not the time to launch into a project you didn’t have on your agenda for the day.  Leave what you need in the inbox and schedule time appropriately to take action where needed.

Don’t Forget the Fridge!

Lastly, here’s some timely advice.  Set aside time this week to clean out the fridge!  If you’re like me, you are going to be doing some cooking for the holidays.  With cooking comes groceries and leftovers!  So, make some room before you go to the store and before the company arrives.  You will find it helpful to do your cleaning out regularly ahead of your weekly grocery shopping.

Systematize Your Purging and Cleaning

Once you adopt some systems for culling and organizing, any necessary clean-up tasks are going to take less time, which will free you up for more productive tasks. With your newfound order, you will become more efficient.  And, the order you create is going to contribute to a greater sense of calm.  I figure we could all use some order and calm right about now.

Sara Genrich is an Organization and Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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