Overflowing Inbox? Declare Email Bankruptcy

By Brenda SalinasSeptember 8, 2014 9:26 pm

Here’s the scenario: You’re drowning in thousands of unread messages, you’re missing meetings and appointments and dreading checking your overloaded inbox. What should you do?

You could declare email bankruptcy by sending a mass-email to all your contacts to inform them of your email insolvency and providing a new email address at which they can reach you.

Or you could take inspiration from Brigid Schulte, the Washington Post reporter who decided to tackle her bloated inbox, which contained 23,736 unread messages, one email at a time.

The author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time”talked to Texas Standard host David Brown to explain how she groomed her inbox and how she’s making sure it never gets that bad again.

When she knew things had gotten out of hand:

“I was really missing things, I couldn’t find things that I needed, I just had this nagging sense all the time that I was missing something, that I had forgotten something, and honestly when I went through all those emails I really had,” says Schulte.

Why she decided against email bankruptcy:

“That felt like the nuclear option to me. I couldn’t do that,” says Schulte, “I knew that I had to do something, I’ve known for a long time that I had to do something.”

On creating a new system:

“There was one night in April that I thought ‘I’m going to get through all my emails’ and I thought ‘I’m going to sit in this chair and I’m not going to move until I get through everything.’’ says Schulte, ” So I did, I cleared my inbox and I looked up and it was dawn -I’d spent the entire night up clearing my inbox and guess what? A week or two later it was filled up again because I didn’t have a system.”

What you can do to tackle your wayward inbox:

“Some people don’t ever sort their emails and they just search, and that’s fine if it works for you but it just didn’t work for me,” says Schulte, “So I really needed something that when I deleted emails I needed it to delete on every device that I use, so that was huge, just to get everything to sync, and the next thing that was really huge was to come up with a system that works.”

“For me a filing system worked and so I created files that then synced across all devices and then it was a mater of sorting them all and creating rules so that when certain kinds of emails came in they automatically went into certain folders so that my inbox wasn’t always overloaded,” says Schulte.”

Why Email organization matters:

“Email is such a part of our lives, and yet when I think about what’s important in my work, I think what is important is reporting and writing, so I never made time for coming up with a system,” says Schulte, “You know, the administrative stuff always falls to the end because you think ‘ah, it’s not important,’ but you really have to take the time out, just dedicate some time to figure out what you need, set up a system, because if you don’t you get lost, you lose track of stuff, you don’t show up where you think you’re supposed to be.”