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.)

Mike Brown's picture

I did this with my...

I did this with my bloglines feeds that accumulated when I was on vacation and away from a computer. In Firefox, I opened the items I was interested in and opened them in new tabs. Then I saved those open tabs to a bookmark folder with the day's date.

This let me "zero out" my blog feeds and start fresh with them the next day. The bookmarked items then become a new project to be scheduled or handled when I see fit.

Incidentally, this discussion reminds me of the dirtsimple blog's recent entry on not bothering to catch up (http://dirtsimple.org/2006/01/falling-behind-rising-above.html). The backlog will never decrease as long you keep putting stuff in it. Just start where you are, accept you've got a backlog, make it a standalone project, zero out the inboxes, and then carry on as if you're an extremely organized person. Things will eventually sort themselves out as you get back into your routines.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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