43 Folders

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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Fresh Start: The Email DMZ

Like a lot of the best fresh starts, this one's a total psych-out; also, like most of the best ones, you won't believe how well it works until you actually try it for yourself.

  1. Open your email program and create a new folder called "DMZ"
  2. Go to your email inbox and Select All
    • You might alternatively choose all email older than n days
  3. Drag those emails from your inbox into the DMZ folder
  4. Go, and sin no more.

Is this the email equivalent of covering your ears and singing loudly? Not really. You still need to deal with all the emails in your DMZ folder (personally I'd recommended "archiving" anything older than 21 days), but, most importantly, you're drawing a line in the sand. You're saying "Okay, starting this minute I quit letting 'being behind' stop me from making good decisions now and going forward." Hence the "fresh start." Get it? Tomorrow morning you arrive to a spanking fresh inbox and the chance to start anew. Of course, using your fresh start to develop an actual new habit is entirely optional, but it's certainly more reachable than ever now, right? Right.

Basically, this works at accomplishing the one thing you need more than anything else right now: to stop digging.

Think about it: how much stuff in your life has gotten unmanageable simply because you decided at some point that you were too behind to ever make a difference? More than anything you need a way to recover these projects from the brink -- to find the handle that lets you stop making it worse and start seeing a way back toward daylight.

(On another day, I'll tell you my super-secret way of paring down the biggest DMZ folder to empty in 15 minutes.)

Kathleen's picture

I try to keep my...

I try to keep my inbox limited to the visible window at all times. I now hate the creeping feeling that something is lurking just below the preview window (which of course limits inbox viewing space further).

We have a very small size limit, so all reference emails (articles, recent legislation, library bulletins, questions answered etc) go into a folder on our document management system. They are there if I need or want to read them, but I don't have to worry about them.

Personal emails that I want to keep go into a "Read and kept" folder. This is mostly the rare good joke emails, family photos and emails in the elaborate soap opera that is the lives of my friends which I want to preserve for posterity.

Almost everything else gets either dealt with, put into the DMS or printed and filed. If I still have something to do, I put a note and bring up on the task for the appropriate matter.

The remnant does (must!) fit the procrustean bed that is my inbox - brief emails waiting for a reply, something I can't bring myself to look at until after a strong cup of tea, etc. This system has worked for me pretty well for almost a year now.

(We send a lot of emails and - being a law firm - must keep a hard copy of all of them and print the sent receipts. I had to train myself to print the emails as soon as they are sent, and the receipts as soon as they come in, and then delete them. Better to sort hard copies at the printer than end up with 2000 anonymous receipts in the inbox).




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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