What I Learned From Cleaning Out My Inbox

On a Friday night a few weeks ago... in my sweatpants... in front of the TV, I decided to finally face the beast that was my email inbox. Over a year's worth of messages that accumulated from a lack of discipline and organization had produced enough shame and guilt that I just had to deal with it.

I kept telling myself I would clean it out, purge it and move on. I kept writing "clean out inbox" on my to-do list and then kept moving on without actually doing it. The number of emails just kept growing and growing over time until it hit four digits and I finally couldn't take it anymore.

It's not that I was completely ignoring new emails. I read all of them. It was the responding and taking action on the emails where things fell apart. I would read, respond if necessary, and then just leave the email in my inbox rather than filing it or deleting it.

So, I sat down casually watching some basketball on TV and started deleting. Scanning the subject of the email and the first few sentences. I was amazed that I remembered originally reading most of the messages. They had been dealt with and just needed deleting. 

Chunks at a time... I kept deleting. After about an hour and a half, I had compressed my email inbox down to just 21 messages! Ugh! Everyone's favorite way to spend a Friday night, right?

As long as I'd had the task on my mind, and the daily guilt of watching the total number grow over the past year, when the task was complete, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. A weight was lifted from my shoulders that I didn't even realize was there. 

I made my way upstairs where Kelsey was in bed working on her own blog, and with a little skip in my step told her what I had just accomplished. She respectfully congratulated me for being a responsible adult and went back to work.

Benefits From Cleaning Out My Inbox

I'm sure you've been there before, either via a similar story to mine, or maybe it was coming back from a vacation and being thrust back into your work, you started neglecting the little things. And then, the little things added up to big things. Regardless of how it came to be, I learned some valuable lessons through the process. 

Sub-conscience Roadblocks

Writing takes a considerable amount of creative juices. It's been extremely difficult for me as I committed to blogging again at the beginning of 2017 to create content to publish regularly.

As soon as I was done cleaning my inbox, my mind was free to think about other things. I've been able to write down a handful of ideas since, and the benefit of finally cleaning up the inbox has been very tangible. I've made strides on other projects that have been stagnant as well, which is what I wanted to do all along, but was stuck.

Guilt is Gone

It's bothered me internally for months. The thought that I'd let my inbox grow that large. The guilt came from knowing I needed to take care of it, but just not having the energy, desire or want to actually do it. There are many things in life that we just simply don't want to do, but need to be done. Cleaning out the closet, garage, kitchen, coat closet, basement storage, etc. These things occupy space in our minds and eventually squeeze out positive thoughts and stifle progress in other areas of life. 

New Habits

While I still have other areas of organizing to do in my life (see above paragraph), I've been looking at things differently since cleaning out my email inbox. I've been looking at my email at the end of the day and trying to take care of one more. One more email that I can delete, or deal with to help keep things clean. I'm trying to keep the momentum going.

I've also been unsubscribing to email lists that I don't need to see. By unsubscribing to a handful of email lists a day, it's helped keep the new emails at bay as well. If they are important enough things to keep, I wouldn't mindlessly delete their emails everyday.

Old Notes

While I don't advocate letting your inbox spawn to four digits over a year plus time period, there was one email I found that brought immense joy to my heart. It was an email from a friend requesting prayer. And by keeping that email, I forwarded it to him with a little note of how much things change in one year. The timing was perfect. God's timing is perfect. And it made the cleaning out of my inbox worth it. 

Other Areas of Life 

I've seen this same benefit in other areas of my life. The hardest part is finding the time to pause from everyday life and make progress on these projects that seem to linger on our to-do lists. Personal finances is one of those areas for a lot of people. I hear it all the time... "I just can't stick to a budget," or "I can't figure out how I'm overspending every month." 

Thankfully, this is one area that I've been able to keep organized. It's taken effort by Kelsey and I both, but once it became a habit, and we started seeing the long-term impact it would have on our lives, there was no way we could let it go. We have to pay attention to our money. We have to make sure we are purposeful with where it goes. It frees us up to live the rest of our lives without the guilt or roadblocks.

We're not perfect, but we try our best. Because, in those moments where we've relaxed on our budget, it never feels good sorting out the mess later. And being responsible for two other humans not only adds additional expenses to our budget, but also additional work to sort out the budget. We take it one month at a time. Set a budget the best we can, execute it the best we can, and sort out the surprises as they come.

Cleaning up your budget, your closet, or your inbox. They all take purposeful and deliberate effort to make progress. But, once you start... who knows... maybe it will become a habit that sticks around!

What's one area of life you would like to organize?