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Tips for Mastering Your Messes

Do you need a break? We all need to get away from our everyday routines from time to time. So you finally find the time in your busy schedule to slip away for a long weekend. After the long trek back home, you walk into your kitchen, hungry, and see….what? A pile of dishes to do, dirty counters and a fridge full of leftovers that have now grown a friend. In the rush to get out the door to enjoy some free time, you looked at the kitchen and thought that you’d have plenty of energy and time to take care of it all when you got home. Now, I don’t know about you, but that is rarely the case in my house. I hate the idea of spending an hour cleaning before I can even get started on a meal. As a result, you order pizza when all you really wanted was a fresh, homemade meal after eating out for several days. If you had taken the time before leaving for vacation, you wouldn’t have to deal with the mess when you got back. And for most of us, that’s where we are with getting organized – staring at the mess we thought we’d have time to clean up later.

At one time, I considered a career as a professional organizer. But don’t let that stop you from reading any further. It certainly doesn’t mean you’ll find my house or even my desk at work in pristine order anytime you might stop by. Keeping things organized in my own life seems like it could be its own a full time job. But there are some simple ways to get started when things feel like they’ve gotten out of control. When I feel like I have a million things to do and no clear priorities, I look at my email inbox. Most likely, I’m feeling frazzled because it’s a long assortment of requests/tasks/questions/information I haven’t sorted through in a while.

A little ground work goes a long way. Take 15 minutes to set up folders to file everything in. You can break it down by whatever makes the most sense for what types of emails you receive: clients, projects, co-workers, etc. For example, you might have: 

  • Clients
    • Client A 
      • Project A1
      • Project A2
    • Client B
      • Project B1
      • Project B2
  • Contractors
    • Co-workers 
      • Angela Martin 
      • Dwight Schrute 
      • Jim Halpert 
      • Michael Scott 
      • Pam Beesly 
  • Expenses 
  • HR/Office Notices 
  • Social Networking 
  • Reports 
    • Monthly Invoices 
    • Weekly Budget 
  • Travel Arrangements 
    • Vacation Requests 
  • Vendors

Don’t be afraid to create subfolders. For co-workers, you can create a folder for each one or just the ones that you receive emails from the most and save the rest in one main folder. There’s no set rule on how many folders you need to have – file them in the place where you would naturally turn to look for it later.

Start with a clean slate. So are the 1,500 plus messages you’ve been storing in your email inbox all vital to your daily work routine? If it takes you or your email’s search function more than a few seconds to sort through your inbox emails to find something, you probably need to invest time into a system. But what do you do with all the messages already there? To go back through ALL of them would probably take you a full day (or more), which you probably can’t justify given your upcoming deadlines. But doing nothing is not a solution.

Start by moving all of the emails from your inbox into one separate folder. You can label it “To Be Filed.” Leave the most recent emails that still require your response today in your inbox. If it’s something for the long term, start a To-Do list and log the task/item there so you can get the email out of your inbox. If you can dedicate 10 minutes a day to go through the old emails, you can file them over the course of the next few weeks. Or, you can leave them in the folder and use the search function in your email program when you need to reference something there. Either way, you and your inbox get a fresh start.

Schedule the time and make it a habit. I tend to resist change when the old way worked, even if it didn’t work very well. It may take some time and dedication to get started, but set aside 10 minutes at the beginning or end of each day to go through your inbox and file things appropriately. Put it on your calendar. If you find that you are receiving things that don’t fit logically in the folders you have – create a new folder. You may even find that this will help you create a daily to-do list. As you respond to emails, move them to the appropriate folder. Keeping your inbox volume down can help you be more efficient, productive and less likely to miss something important. Taking care of things as they come in and go out isn’t always easy, but it does make getting your job done easier in the long run. Maybe you’ll even find time before you go on your next vacation to clean your kitchen.

Annette Pikaart

Chaos, run for cover. Confusion, clutter and disorder, your days are numbered: Annette's her name, and organization's her game.


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