Digital De-Cluttering (Part 1)

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

Some of you have noticed my instant messenger custom message late last week said, “Digital De-clutter Day”. A couple of people asked what that was, and I thought other readers of the blog might be interested as well.

You know how you accrue stuff over the years, and it just piles up in closets and boxes? Then every once in a while, your mom or your wife makes you go through it and throw half of it away? Well, that’s “analog” de-cluttering; just getting rid of all that stuff that you’ve saved, but can’t remember why you saved it in the first place. You don’t have to admit to it, but I know I’m not the only person who does that.

Digital de-cluttering works exactly the same way. I have e-mails from people that are years old and that I’ll never need to read again. For example, I had one from my mom asking me if Morah and I would be coming over for dinner some random night two years ago. I’m pretty sure that one’s safe to delete!

It isn’t just about deleting old e-mails; it’s also about being more productive. When I started my digital de-cluttering, my inbox had over 1,200 e-mails in it. I’m not quite finished, but I’m down to just over 500. So far, I’ve managed to delete over half of the e-mails in my inbox! That’s literally hundreds of e-mails that I looked at and realized that I will never need again.

And it doesn’t stop at deleting the e-mails. Labeling the e-mails has been very important. While looking through my thousands of years-old e-mails, I’ve discovered a handful from people I haven’t written to in ages, or that have URLs in them I want to bookmark, or that remind me to perform some task, which I never did. I’m labeling all of these, “Action Required”, so that I can check up on them later to see if I need to follow up with anyone. I’m also discovering a ton of e-mails relating to planning my wedding. I’m married now, so I don’t need any of those e-mails any more. If I think I might, or if I think Morah should take a look at them before I delete them, they get labeled, “Wedding”. And so it goes until all of the e-mails are labeled appropriately (which may include having no label at all).

The last step is to archive all of my inactive conversations. All of those e-mail conversations that I still want to keep for whatever reason (some of them have important info that I may want to access at a later date), but which are months or years old, can get archived so that they aren’t hanging around in my inbox. For some reason, I haven’t archived any of my e-mails before. I think I got lazy, and then as the number of e-mails increased, I got even lazier. This digital de-clutter is taking many hours (which I’ve spread out over several days), and that stems directly from me being lazy to begin with.

Once everything is labeled and archived, I still have access to the old information, and my inbox can become my “Action Required” list. As soon as a conversation seems to be over, I’ll delete it, or move it into the archive. I need to schedule time to go through all of the conversations in my inbox and archive those that are no longer active. Perhaps once my inbox fills more than one page, it will act as a reminder that I need to de-clutter again.

I can still search through old e-mails by label, and searching through e-mails will be much fast, since there will be less through which to search (not that GMail is slow in its searches now).

Hopefully this big push will help me be more productive by allowing me to more quickly see what e-mails need to be address, while still allowing me access to my old messages, all while keeping my GMail account free of unnecessary clutter.

Tomorrow: Moving on from e-mails!

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  1. In other words, you’ve got nothing else to do?

  2. Well, no, there’s plenty to do. But getting this done is an important step toward streamlining my life.

  3. ugh, i have to do this with e-mail periodically. it’s easy for it to get out of control when hotmail and yahoo keep competing with upping the ridiculous amounts of space they give us.

  4. Digital De-Cluttering (Part 2)

    Yesterday I talked about deleting old e-mails to help reduce how cluttered my digital life is and increase productivity. Today I’m going to talk about extending that ideology beyond the inbox. My first computer didn’t have a hard drive. I…

  5. Digital De-Cluttering (Part 3)

    I started talking about Digital De-Cluttering on Tuesday, and continued yesterday, but today I want to talk about de-cluttering in general. Why am I suddenly on a huge de-cluttering kick? Well, I wouldn’t call it sudden. Remeber, getting caught up…

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