43 Folders

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Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

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”What’s 43 Folders?”
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.)

Merlin's picture

Judging by a few comments...

Judging by a few comments and numerous carbuncular emails, some folks think this is a big fat copout. Uh…no. It’s actually not. Re-read the post. Everybody catch this part?

You still need to deal with all the emails in your DMZ folder

The idea is not to permanently abandon the emails in your temporary DMZ folder; the idea is simply to STOP blowing off new emails as a result of feeling intractably behind. The unstated prologue to curing Broken Windows Syndrome is that you need to start by not breaking any new windows. Same idea here.

So, yeah. Let’s try to see this for what it is, rather than flaking on what an irresponsible ghoul it turns you into. I’ve taught this trick to people with 5000 emails in their inbox. Did it magically get the 5000 emails dismissed? Nope — that’s a totally different problem to solve. What it did do was ensure that the next day didn’t close with 5100 unprocessed emails, or that their week didn’t conclude with 6000 emails sitting there, etc. The flow of blood was staunched. That’s all it does.

Like most of my crap advice this is not intended as an international panacea, and it definitely won’t rescue your baby from a well. Your mileage may vary, some anal leakage may occur, and, please, no glass containers or flash photography during the final ten minutes of the show.

Thank you, as ever, for your sweetly faked attention.

— The Management




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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