Taming the Inbox Dragons

Befriending the dragons lounging on my pile of emails

It’s time for an inbox cleanse. I do this periodically, and it never lasts. I can get close to the coveted “inbox zero” for a few days, and then it creeps back up. I’ve tried tools and techniques and timers and rules…. And still several times this year I’ve had many thousands of emails in my inbox. I can just see my inner dragons settling comfortably on top of the hoard of emails, nestling in and getting comfortable.

Orange tabby cat lounging in a box
Zeke the dragon…. er… orange cat lounging in a box where he doesn’t belong.

So as a generative coach, how do I coach myself to deal with this? I’ll walk you through my internal dialogue and how I got to my current system where as I wrap up this workday I have only 3 emails in my inbox.

How do I feel when I look at my overflowing inbox?


What has worked for me in the past when I feel that way?

Break down the problem into smaller pieces and focus on the impact I want to have. Then I can choose the actions that lead to that impact. For email I’ve already set up a handful of inbox subfolders and rules to direct incoming emails to them and I frequently unsubscribe to newsletters. I overcommit by adding new things to my self-imposed “to do today” list even if I know I can’t get it done that day, and that list is a combo of my inbox, tasks I add to my calendar, and a piece of paper. Basically I’m using my inbox as a set of reminders.

What patterns do I see here?

This is interesting. I often repeat the pattern that discomfort is my comfort zone. I also still get caught in the corporate mindset that I need to have an overfull plate to be taken seriously. Even deeper though, it comes down to a fear of both failure and success. If I focus on the most important things, then my fledgling business is out there in the wild, and I don’t know what will happen. Will people want to work with me? Will I be able to sustain the business both from a personal energy perspective and financially? If it’s successful then…. what? Lots of unknowns that are scary for a whole variety of reasons. Basically having those emails sitting there in my inbox lets me use them as an excuse to avoid dealing with my feelings and to have an excuse for going slow.

What keeps me from taking my next step forward?

As I go through the older emails I am revisiting my past. I’m reminding myself of the missed opportunities, the events I planned to go to and forgot about, the people I didn’t connect with, the idea I did nothing with. The successes were filed away, the failures await me.

And the newsletters, there are so many. This feels like superficial community building, a way to show support, learn from others, and identify potential partners – but it’s not any of those things if I don’t engage beyond subscribing. It scatters my focus and leaves me grasping at shiny objects, just like a dragon adding every bauble in sight to its hoard.

What first step will I take to move forward?

Start with a clean slate. Create a sustainable framework to deal with new calls for my attention, in this case incoming emails.

Will I commit to creating and implementing this framework today? What do I get out of that?

Yes. This will help me stay future-focused and be more intentional in how, how fast, and where to move forward. I’ll focus my internal dragons on my dreams.

My inbox framework

  1. Move all 2000+ inbox emails to a new subfolder under my inbox called __CleanMeUpNow.
    • I thought it would take me weeks or months to go through the cleanup folder, but in a few hours spread over three days I went from well over 2000 emails to around 150. I sorted by who they were from and deleted many of them in chunks. Many got filed, many more got deleted. I utilized a bunch of “unsubscribe” links.
    • About a week later I went through every remaining email in the cleanup folder and I’m down to 34. All of them are ideas for creating content like this blog, people I want to connect with, or business building ideas. In other words it’s useful to have that information, and I’ll decide later if there’s another way I want to track those ideas. I don’t have to do it all today.
  2. Deal with new emails a few times throughout the day. Yes, I know some frameworks have other opinions on how often to read new emails. This is what works for me.
    • Reply or schedule or file.
    • Ruthlessly unsubscribe. If I find I resist unsubscribing, see how I feel about creating a rule to move it to the “to read” folder that never gets read. Hey, don’t laugh. It works. If I need to ponder more, move it to the cleanup folder. I’m surprised how rarely I need to park emails in the cleanup folder
    • Post business or partnership ideas to my business notebook in OneNote and file or delete the email.
    • Give myself 15-30 minutes max at the end of the day to get my inbox to fit on a single screen, about 8-10 emails. I just checked my inbox and realized I had tasks on my calendar to verify two of them are complete by next week (I’m waiting on others) and filed those. That leaves me with one email to address tomorrow!

This is so exciting. I feel lighter and energized! What gets in your way and how will you move forward?

I hope you enjoy this latest Befriending Dragons nugget! Check out my coaching programs and individual sessions. I love to make new connections – please schedule a 15-30 meeting if something I said here resonates with you.

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