In my entire, 25-plus year career I have never taken so much pleasure -- joy even -- in this one simple thing, nor I have a I achieved it until now. An empty email box.

It feels like work has never been busier, and with multiple clients and projects all heating up at once I had no choice but to purge, organize and stay on top of email. It was a matter of survival. When I see email clutter -- or any clutter -- it distracts me, discourages me, stresses me out and slows me down. I don't have time for any of that.

So, I started out trying to keep my email to 25 or fewer emails, but that was way too much leeway. I needed to feel in control -- the way I do when I make my bed every morning. I had to lean in and have a zero tolerance policy for email clutter. I had to think "what would Marie Kondo do?" So here's what I did.

Use the one touch rule.

I once heard the way to wrangle your physical mail is the one touch rule. Toss it. Take action -- like pay the bill or whatever. File it -- if necessary. I haven't been able to do that that, and honestly mail is often strewn all over my house. Good thing is I don't get as much snail mail these days. Still, I have applied the one touch rule to my email.

Many emails are deleted right away, and I have unsubscribed to lists. I will hold onto news alert emails for the day but they are deleted before the next daily news cycle. If I can respond in under two minutes, I do. If something will take longer, I will keep it in my email, but I will respond that day, because I don't want to keep opening, reading and pondering this one email.

Emails that I think I will need later -- to track a response or follow up when the ball is in someone else's email in box -- are filed or archived. When projects are over, I do a massive purge.

You would think I'm checking email all the time. But here's the thing I actually think I check it less, because I know I'm all caught up. What's great about this is that some research -- including that found in the February 2015 issue of the journal "Computers in Human Behavior" -- shows that checking email less frequently reduces stress. That just makes sense.

Feel the joy.

What's been keeping me going is the joy of seeing an empty in box. I feel a spark of joy each time I delete an emaiI. I can't control how much email I get or the fact that more and more work is done via email. But I can control how I react to it and take care of it so that I can move on and do the work I love and be the most productive.

During one work day when my husband and I were both camped out at the kitchen table, I turned by laptop so he could see by barren email box. He was happy for me, I suppose, but equally unimpressed. But then again he has thousands -- or at least hundreds -- of emails in his in box at any time. He doesn't file anything. It's crazy. But I guess it works for him like his non-Marie Kondo-conforming dresser drawers.

When I go all in, I'm all in. With working hard, exercising daily, eating right. So I don't doubt I've tamed the email box for good. I just wonder why I didn't do it sooner. 

Published on: Mar 27, 2019