Digital Chaos

Last year my best friend looked at my phone in horror and asked, “you have 1,198 unread email?”

“Gulp, I do?”

While I consider myself well organized, my digital life was a mess. This realization forced me to think about why I had hundreds (ok, more like thousands) of unread email sitting in my inbox.

There are two primary reasons why our digital lives can get unruly – information overload and difficulty making quick decisions (this is related to a lack of process for handling all the email).

Once I understood why I was allowing my inbox to overflow, I developed a simple plan to organize. I hope this can help you too.

Information Overload – We are expected to process a vast amount of information on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Depending on your work and personal email,  it is possible you receive in excess of 200 email a day. Staying on top of and sorting the shear volume of this is exhausting and incredibly time consuming.

The process from chaos toward minimalism takes time because we need to be able to determine between what is important and what is not. The ability to sort through information quickly is a skill we must develop. This gets me to decision making and having a process in place.

Decision Making — Each and every email in your in box requires you to make a decision. My thoughts sound something like this, “Hmmm. I might need that coupon. I’ll wait to delete this email for a few days. Oooh. This articles looks really interesting. Ok, I’ll keep this one. I’m sure I’ll read it later.”

If you have a hard time making decisions my guess your in box overfloweth too.

So, what can we do today to live more simply? Start with cleaning up your phone!

Here are three simple suggestions for those unread email:

  1. Delete all those unread email. Scary prospect isn’t it? What if I delete an email I need? What if I delete an important email address? What if I still want to read it…someday? Trust me. If you haven’t read it in past three weeks its not that important to you. You might want to pretend it is important but if you really think about it you know it isn’t. Delete it.
  2. Unsubscribe from the lists. This will take some time, but well worth the effort. Do you really need to know what’s for sale at all of those stores? Everyday. No. No, you do not. Unsubscribe. Delete. Delete. Delete. Unsubscribe!
  3. Create folders in your inbox. If it is important enough to keep in your inbox you should file it. If its not important enough to file it, delete it!

It’s really not complicated. Read. Delete. Read. Delete. File. Read. Delete.

Your goal should be an empty in box.

What do you think? Is an empty inbox overrated or a way to simplify?

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Dr. Gina Marcello is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, Graphic Design & Multimedia at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, NJ.