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6 Strategies to Organize Overwhelming Email: Stem the Flood of Information

6 Strategies to Organize Overwhelming Email: Stem the Flood of Information

For many the issue of inbox overwhelm isn’t simply about being in an email heavy job, it’s very much about the deluge of incoming information. Newsletters, sales notices, marketing emails, jokes, social media updates, and updates from a variety of blogs and websites can make up a large portion of email piling up in your inbox daily. While these communications may often be necessary, desired even, they can all just get to be too much, when left unchecked. They will utterly take-over your inbox and completely overwhelm even the most organized and efficient among us. There are however, some simple steps we can take to combat this insidious dribble of incoming information. Simple yes; easy no. We humans are wired to seek information. We want to stay informed, in the loop, knowledgeable. We hate not keeping up with everything that’s going on around us. We might even go so far as to say that our insatiable curiosity has turned into an information addiction. Though many of us are still in denial about that…

Strategies to Stem the Flood and Clear Emails

  1. Cool it with the newsletters. Really. Only subscribe to newsletters if the information is truly valuable to you in some way. Useful, informative or entertaining is fine, but if you find yourself frequently skimming or deleting without even reading, it’s time to unsubscribe.
  2. Use an RSS reader. Instead of signing up for daily or weekly emails, subscribe to the site’s RSS feed (For example: Here’s Lifehack’s Feed) and use Google Reader or something similar to store and manage your information. Get it out of your inbox if you can!
  3. Be very selective when forwarding emails. Jokes, chain emails, video links, photos, and that sort of thing, but for the most part, it might be a better idea to post that kind of information on your Facebook wall. Everyone loves a cute pet or a good laugh; once in a while is fine, but not on a regular basis.
  4. Opt out of those sales alerts. If you need to buy something, you can search the internet for sales or discounts. If you don’t need it then you shouldn’t be wasting time getting alerts about it. It is a waste of your valuable time and inbox space and will probably save you money as well!
  5. Likewise, opt out of those marketing emails. Nearly every time you sign up on some website and give out your email, you are going to be placed on a mailing list. Unless you are waiting for some specific information from the website, uncheck that box during the sign-up process. If there wasn’t an option or you missed it, opt out or unsubscribe as soon as the marketing emails start showing up.
  6. Get it in digest format if possible. Instead of getting a notification every time someone posts on your LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook profile, opt for digest emails instead. Another option is to use an inbox filter to divert them to a separate folder, get text alerts, or turn off the notifications totally. You can always log in daily to look.

There are so many strategies we can use to organize email, weed out and trim down our email volume. With a little diligence, we can move a bit closer to an efficient, streamlined inbox that is a useful tool to share valuable information. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be for anyway?

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Featured photo credit:  Businessman with at signs flying from his hands via Shutterstock

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Royale Scuderi

A creative strategist, consultant and writer who specializes in cultivating human potential for happiness, health and fulfillment.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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