Losing Mental Weight: Purging Email Subscriptions

I tend to sign up for email lists, and most of the time it works okay, since people and companies are getting smarter about not selling their lists. But after a while I start to notice more and more unsolicited emails. Then I go on a purge, unsubscribing from every list that is starting to annoy me. The political ones are especially bad. Fortunately the unsubscribe process has become much easier than it used to be. At the bottom of every email is an Unsubscribe link, sometimes in very tiny font, admittedly. It only takes a minute to go through the process, though some lists make you enter the email address you’re unsubscribing and some don’t.

Afterwards I feel as if I’d lost 10 mental pounds.

A Corner of Your Own

Virginia Woolf famously said “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” We all need a place to call our own, be it a whole room or simply a desk and computer that is completely our own, not shared with anyone. When I was younger and had kids at home it was a hard boundary to guard. The kids knew that my desk was the place where there was always clean paper, scissors, everything they needed and couldn’t find in their messy rooms. Even my husband would give in to temptation sometimes, with regrettable results. I now have one pristine area in each home.

David Allen, of Getting Things Done fame, says:

Random lists strewn everywhere, meeting notes, vague to-dos on Post-its on their refrigerator or computer screens …

Most homemakers won’t necessarily need a large area to manage their workflow, but having enough of a discrete space dedicated to the processing of notes, mail, home and family projects and activities, finances, and the like is critical.

Traditionally it was harder for a homemaker to have a corner of her own. Many women’s desks were placed by designers in the kitchen, as if that was the only room of our own. And I guess it often was.

But now retirees, male or female, who have been used to having all their tools in the office, feel disorganized at home, because the tools are not gathered together in a private space.

What he says about homemakers applies to retirees as well.

So I suggest, nay, I demand, that you get your own space and set serious boundaries around it. Just like in an office, where co-workers would never presume to use your desk.

Creating and Using Checklists

Along with David Allen, I am a big believer in checklists. This is what Allen says:

Get comfortable with checklists, both ad hoc and more permanent. Be ready to create and eliminate them as required. Make sure you have an easily accessed place to put a new list that’s also attractive and even fun to engage with—in a loose-leaf notebook or in a software application that is readily available. Appropriately used, checklists can be a tremendous asset in enhancing personal productivity and relieving mental pressure.

Allen, David. Getting Things Done.


One of my top level books in Notebooks is Lists and Instructions

I have checklists for every multi-step procedure in my life, from departure and arrival instructions that I can send to guests to packing lists for every type of trip.

Inbox 0

That is my email goal each day and I reach it within 20 minutes. I glance at each email header. Many of them I can swipe immediately to trash. The rest are skimmed and sent to one of my folders. If the action requested takes less than 2 minutes, I do it.

This is one of David Allen’s rules:

“1. Do it. If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.”

The rest go into one of these folders:

  • Action
  • Read
  • Waiting
  • Save

Occasionally I may have an additional folder for a special project, but I avoid having lots of little folders. I go through each folder once a day, and transfer items as needed. Items in the Read folder are either read, saved, or deleted. Sometimes after reading an article or post I’ll tweet it or save it to Pocket.

As the wonderful David Allen says:

“… [G]etting “in” empty doesn’t mean you’ve handled everything. It means that you’ve deleted what you could, filed what you wanted to keep but don’t need to act on, done the less-than-two-minute responses, and moved into your reminder folders all the things you’re waiting for and all your actionable e-mails.

Allen, David. Getting Things Done

Once a year I export all the emails in Save to a PDF file.