My 2009 New Year’s Resolution: E-mail

I fall into the camp of people who set one resolution a year. My idea is that if I only have one resolution it is a lot more likely to be achieved. I have other goals and projects in my life, a continuous stream of things to do, but really only one major change I want to make about myself.

When selecting a resolution, I start by identifying the things in my life that cause me the greatest amount of stress. Work is always on my stress list, but I enjoy (in a loose sense) the stress my work creates. I love my job — running is very rewarding — so the stress associated with it isn’t something I want to change. A few items also creep onto my stress list that I can’t control, which means I can’t make resolutions about them. These uncontrollable stresses include things like my 99-year-old grandmother’s ailing health.

At the top of my list of stressors that I can change is e-mail. No matter which system I implement to handle e-mail, it fails within two months of use. I’ve tried every system you’ve ever heard of to manage e-mail, and it doesn’t work for me over the long term. I’ll go on vacation or have to be away from my computer for a conference and that is always the point where the system starts to lose its edge. From that disturbance, the whole method breaks down and collapses.

This year, I resolve to get e-mail under control.

Now that I’ve decided on the resolution, I’ll review the post Making your resolutions a reality. These tips helped me achieve my 2008 Resolution: Laundry, and I know they’ll get me on track with e-mail this year.

What area of your life is the most cluttered or in need of organizing? Have you made a resolution to get it under control in 2009? Let us know about your plans in the comments section.

36 Comments for “My 2009 New Year’s Resolution: E-mail”

  1. posted by Nicole on

    If anyone comes up with 1) a system for email managment or 2) a way to handle food storage containers, they will be rich indeed, and I’ll be the first in line to pay for it!

  2. posted by Jo on

    My house is organized, uncluttered, and full of systems to keep everything where it should be. But my bank accounts and financial life? A mess! I don’t have any major debt and I’m saving for retirement, but beyond that I never have any idea where my money is going from one week to the next. I want to always know how much money I have and where it’s going.

    So I’m doing a “spending diet” for January, February, and March of this year. Not buying anything I don’t absolutely need. It will give a chance to really see how much money I have to work with and I can create an organized budget accordingly.


  3. posted by Amanda on

    I have several issues, but the one I want to focus on is decluttering. My goal is “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

  4. posted by FupDuckTV on

    One of my New Years Resolutions is to save more money for a new house. My current home is cluttered and way too small. I read this blog daily hoping to help organize and de-clutter my current situation. Ultimately, sometimes you really just need to upgrade your living conditions.

  5. posted by Wendy on

    The area of my life that needs the most uncluttering is my home. I started this project in 2008 and will continue to completion in 2009.

    This year I went through all my clothes, decluttered my desk, cleaned out some closets, and uncluttered my bedroom.

    For 2009, I will:
    ** Renew my commitment to a weekly review
    ** Renew my commitment to keeping checklists
    ** Add deadlines to my checklist to keep things moving
    ** Turn boxes of childhood items into picture scrapbooks and giving away the rest

  6. posted by gypsy packer on

    1-declutter my grocery budget and lose 20 lbs and some triglycerides

    2-get all of my scanned clip files, recipes, and genealogical info onto Access

    3-get all of the music digitized and on SDHC’s, mp3 disks, and an external HD.

    4-make a tall kitchen user-friendly for a short gal!

  7. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    My husband and I have made a resolution to declutter the home. We have a lot of messy closets and drawers to clean out, so we’re taking 15 minutes out of each day to tidy up. Small steps to a more organized house and life!

  8. posted by JC on – INBOX ZERO is a series of articles that I found helpful to manage my email.

    I’ve implemented my bastardized version of this with a modicum of success…

  9. posted by Alexandra on

    I am not making “resolutions” this year, because they stress me out and I don’t need any more stress in my life. I am trying to just be more O.K. with realizing that life is imperfect and there will be days that are stressful for reasons buried deep in my subconscious. Generally when this happens, I end up figuring out a few days later why I was so upset in the first place.

    My goals for this year are to communicate better and to forgive myself if (when) I screw up.

    As for e-mail, I find GMail to be the best system of organizing e-mail, as conversations are kept together, as opposed to simply having a series of important e-mail replies interspersed with your friends forwarding you pictures of adorable Shiba Inus or something.

    I have asked GMail to create a feature which allows you to archive an e-mail until you need a reminder, like if you need to write to someone in July about a possible seasonal job opening or something. Currently, I label my e-mail chains as Follow-Up needed, but I have so many that need follow-up over the next 18 months or so that the system is no longer effective.

    GMail currently has no function like the one I have requested.

    Dear Unclutterer, could you please start an internet petition to get the GMail team to allow you to archive specific conversations (thus eliminating them from your inbox) and have the entire conversation pop up in your inbox (either as unread or with a reminder note that you write to yourself) at a date and time specified by you?

    I’ll be the first to sign.

    Thanks again, and best of luck with 2009!


  10. posted by Naomi on

    I deleted my cluttered personal in-box in mid-November:

    There’s nothing I couldn’t find (or ask for) if I really needed it. I’ve also gotten better at dealing with new messages. Sometimes it helps to give yourself a clean slate.

  11. posted by internetangela on

    I was surprised by this because your post on Inbox Zero changed my life (my personal inbox is at 0, my work inbox is under 10 at the end of every day, and my spam account inbox is in the thousands but that’s what it’s for), but then I realized that was Gina’s guest post. She can probably help you!

  12. posted by Eden on

    My main goal is to thin out toys and get our playroom organized. It’s an attainable goal and I think I have everything I need to do it now, including time.

    My main resolution is to finish a project before starting another 😉

  13. posted by Dave P on

    I’m proud to say I conquered the email monkey in 2008!

    I simply don’t file anything into folders anymore. I delete alot, but if I think I’ll want to refer to it at some time I just leave it in the inbox. I may create an action folder, but for now I haven’t had a need to.

    Also, I switched from using an email address that had my ISP name (such as [email protected]) to an email address on Google’s Gmail. That way if I ever switch Internet Service Providers I don’t have to worry about switching email addresses in a hurry. I’ve set up Gmail to automatically fetch my messages from my ISP account and copy them to my Gmail account and send them from there. Also, I’ve switched from using POP mail to IMAP mail so I can now read my email from my desktop computer or my laptop or my iPhone or anywhere using a web browser, and if I delete a message it will be deleted in all the other places. Pretty cool and I highly recommend it.

    Good luck.

  14. posted by Brian Utley on

    I have 1 resolution, and 1 resolution only. And that is because it will take up ALL my time. 52 books in 52 weeks.

  15. posted by mark on

    when you figure out how to deal with email, please, PLEASE share it. i’m losing my mind.

  16. posted by Cynthia on

    I haven’t given it much thought and I should probably give it some more thought, but the one thing that stressing me out the most is my house. It is unorganized. I want to concentrate on a room a month. With three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a garage, a storage room and a shed, that will give me 4 months of peace at the end of the year, or 4 extra months to finish up. Either way, if I can commit to really doing this, my 2010 will start off much better.

  17. posted by Dorothy on

    @Nicole, in regard to the food storage containers, I have three words for you: Plastic Laundry Basket.

    — Find a laundry basket that fits into the place you want to store your collection — onto a shelf, in a pantry closet — wherever.

    — Cull ruthlessly through your collection, eliminating any items with no lids or lids that don’t fit well, items you have to hand wash, items of dubious utility.

    — Keep no more pieces than will fit into your basket. Organize as desired. But don’t get nutty — it’s not that big a collection. You can see everything you have in at a glance.

    — When you need to put away or take out a container, your basket easily pulls from its designated spot.

    One last tip — stained items that you want to keep (for instance that colorless translucent Tupperware in which you stored spaghetti sauce or chili? A soak in the hotest water from the tap and the detergent you use in your dishwasher will remove the stains.

    My resolution: Spend time each day quilting. Even a half-hour daily will add up over the week or month.



  18. posted by Jessica @ThriveYourTribe on

    This year, I’m having more fun. Plain and simple :-). I’ve gotten a bit bogged down in growing a business, planning my time, budgeting my money, etc, etc, and so I’m resolving to spend my time and attention on what brings me joy more often–not that I plan to go crazy or anything, just that I want to be more aware of this precious life I’m living and less stressed about what I “must” do more of.

    @Alex–I agree, gmail could really use a reminder function. I used to use the marvelous for that, but it’s now defunct. Something I’ve been trying out is creating year+month labels. It’s a lot to keep track of, but I really only need reminders about six months out, so it seems to be working okay so far. might be helpful, too–you could use it to send you the necessary email at on a set date.

  19. posted by Jack on

    @Alex: I’ve been putting email into the new Tasks lists since it came out, but most of those are short term. If they’re longer term, I’d probably just put the reminder into gCal.

  20. posted by barbara carlson on

    @Brian Utley — re your resolution to read 52 books in 52 weeks.
    This year (as in many others) I read 52 books, and I only read while
    eating breakfast and lunch. Probably about 50 pages a day. But I
    don’t have 3.5 kids. I checked out your blog and like the tabs idea.

    But if you love reading perhaps your 2009 resolution will make you
    hate it. Is the tryanny aspect worth it? Take care.

  21. posted by Rob Commins on

    I got my e-mail under control using Tim Ferriss’ method. Forget about folders, GTD, etc. Let gmail’s search function do the dirty work. Turn off all e-mail alerts (even the flashing light on your blackberry) and ONLY check your email twice a day. Therefore process e-mails in batches – just like you do with your laundry; do you do your laundry every time you change clothes? Of course not. Why process email as an interrupt driven activity? Check it out – it works.


  22. posted by Annette on

    My clutter is mind clutter from the past. I am apparently going to work on getting rid of outdated thoughts (Mom is in charge of how I feel about food I eat), (Dad is responsible for how I feel about my weight), (Everyone else in the family is more important than I), (I have always been like this so this must be me). We are also decluttering the closets and the book shelves this year. I got the kitchen and pantry done on New Year’s Day.

  23. posted by LisaNewton on

    In 2008, my life was dominated by work. In 2009, I have resolved to make work fun again. My new blog is a reflection of that goal.

    So far, it’s going great.

    I wish you luck with your email goal…………..:)

  24. posted by Valerie on

    You said: “I’ll go on vacation or have to be away from my computer for a conference and that is always the point where the system starts to lose its edge.”

    I’ve read an article recently – unfortunately, I don’t remember where – where the woman just announced all e-mails she would receive during her 1 week vacation would be deleted. When she comes back, her inbox is fresh and empty.

    You don’t HAVE TO answer everyone, especially when you are unable to answer right away.

  25. posted by Another Deb on

    My resolution is to get more sleep this year. The four or five hours a night I have been getting is hurting my mental processing, weight control, and focus.

    I am also committing to spending an extra 15 minutes on my feet when I get home each night. Once I sit down at the desk, I am highly unlikely to get back up. In that extra time I can lay out my clothes for the next day, wipe down counters, whatever it takes to make the next morning begin well.

  26. posted by Andrus on

    I’m a big fan of making resolutions throughout the year, not just on New Year’s eve.

    So much so that myself and two friends created on our free time. It provides an easy way to write your resolutions down and share with whoever you want to share them with. It also has a charitable ‘flipside’ to it – if your resolution doesn’t stand it asks you to donate money to charity.

    So far there are no resolutions related to sorting out email on the site (but there are plenty relating to losing weight, quitting smoking, being more green etc). Would be great to get more people to try Pledgehammer out and hear if it helps to stick to resolutions.

  27. posted by Michele on

    I use Gmail and manage with only 1 rule. The rule: I keep my inbox to 50 messages (1 page) or fewer. This is where “pending” issues and unanswered messages stay. After a conversation is done or an issue is resolved, the message or conversation is deleted, or I remove the “Inbox” label from it so I no longer see it on my inbox page.

    Every few days the inbox gets to the 70 or 80+ range, so then I take a few extra minutes and delete or un-Inbox enough messages to get it back to under 50. I use the Gmail labels as a filing cabinet, which I think is not the way that they’re intended conceptually. But when I have more than one page of messages in my inbox, I forget where things are, what things are, and even that I have things to deal with.

    Since I started with this rule, I find that I drop the ball on far fewer e-mail exchanges than I used to. I also have a better organizational system for finding things like people’s contact information, or documents I’ve sent to people.

  28. posted by inky squid on

    I have a different technique – I chose a lot of goals for 2009 but I made them all pretty simple, with a few week long exceptions:


    To me, this approach is less intimidating than regular New Year’s resolutions and helps get me started on some new things.

  29. posted by Jackie on

    My main resolution is to have as minimum 30 min in the morning to pray and read Bible. I think is the change that my entire life needs.

  30. posted by Danielle on

    My resolution is to get organized. This is my ongoing resolution, but I feel really positive about it this year! Metric is having a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Wish me luck!

    Email-I found “Take Back Your Life” by Sally McGhee to be very helpful. I can’t seem to get my outlook to form categories correctly, so I might use a paper format, but basically if an email requires an action, add that to your “to-do” list or calendar. Also, I’m working on writing emails so they include all needed information to reduce the back and forth. Lastly, I’m telling Grandpa to quit sending me forwards!!

    Plasticware-I have one large container, a vegetable one from Tupperware, and I keep all lids there. I also really like the Stack n Spin. If that fits the size requirements for your situation it can reduce clutter immensely!

    Lastly, Jackie, I love your resoluion. Have you heard of 411God? It’s only 1 minute of scripture, but it’s delivered to your phone or email at whatever time you choose. It’s been helpful for me to take a quick “snack” on the Bible when I can’t seem to find time for a feast!

  31. posted by DKFree on

    Regarding containers (1st comment)- throw them all away. Buy 3 sizes- an entrée size that actually fits in your bag that you carry to work; a 1-cup size for snacks and sides, and a condiment size. This leaves you with 3 sizes to stack in the cupboard. Put lids in a bread pan.

  32. posted by Diana on

    @Alex–I think you can get the same thing by setting a google calendar event. You can set it to remind you via email a specified number of days or weeks beforehand (it’s on the right side of the event page).

    If you need a reminder of what conversation you need to refer to on that day, just put the email title in the info section to remind yourself. That way the email can stay out of your inbox (and mind) until you need to be reminded at that time.


  33. posted by Michele on

    Good golly, your nana is 99? I’m so sorry she’s unwell, but I envy your family’s longevity. In my family, people are lucky to even meet their grandparents. My in-laws didn’t make it to 60. I think my family’s resolutions need to involve commitment to cardiovascular care.

  34. posted by simpleliving_rosemarie on

    My challenge is redoing a whole house after grown children have moved on ( I am ruthless with email – there’s no time to fiddle; it comes in, it goes into a file with a specific subject header or gets tossed. I clear my deleted items every 2 weeks. If I need something later (twice in 5 years), I can always ask for it again. GOOD for you for persevering and finding a system that works for you.

  35. posted by K on

    When I will be away from work and email because of vacation, business travel, or even just needing to unplug to get real work done, I set my email reminder to read “Your email could not be delivered. (name) is out of the office until (date). Please re-send the email after (date).” My email system lets me customize vacation notifications depending on the sender, so my boss gets a message that I am away and will address this after (date). Of course, all the emails actually do get delivered, and I quickly skim them to see if there’s anything important, but I feel no need to respond to most of them since the sender thinks it was undeliverable. It’s revealing to see how few emails are deemed important enough to merit re-sending after my return – makes me realize how trivial most emails really are!

    Rarely, something of minor importance gets missed, but the alternatives are to never go on vacation, or, upon returning, to spend tens of hours excavating mostly irrelevant emails.

    I usually set the return date on the vacation notification for one day after I will actually be back at work. It gives me a day to skim the email box and get myself back up and running on the important things, and to deal with anything urgent and important before settling back into the regular routine. It also helps manage people’s expectations. If they think I’m back Monday morning, some people are irritated if I don’t get back to them till Monday afternoon. But if they think I’m not back till Tuesday, they’re thrilled to hear from me Monday afternoon.

  36. posted by Andrea Cannavina on

    If you haven’t found a system that works for you yet, take a peek at mine:

    I get tons of feedback from those who have tried it – all positive.

    I personally like it because if you fall off the wagon (which I am guilty of); you can get right back on again. DAFT is like riding a bike, once you know, you know.


    Andrea Cannavina (aka LegalTypist)

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