Every three months or so, the captains would beach their boats in a shallow protected bay, and lean it one side, so that they could scrape the barnacles and other parasites from the hull. You had to do this pretty regularly, other wise, the wood parasites would literally eat the boat. Imagine tracking down a Spanish Treasure Galleon, only to find yourself limping back to port with leaks everywhere. This was called careening the ship, and it was important if you wanted to keep sailing. Now take a look at that mountain on your desk. When was the last time you tackled that?
Let’s talk about how to get something that looks like the North face of El Capitan down to something manageable, and something you can keep manageable on a weekly basis.
First things first: Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero was a concept made popular by Merlin Mann, it’s probably the first thing he was widely known for. In a nutshell, process what’s in your inbox, and decision everything. Delete, Do, or Archive. Those are your options. You can, especially if you’re a person who has thousands of untouched emails, move everything into a ‘No Man’s Land’ folder for processing later, but really you’re just putting a band aid on a gushing wound. The point is to clear it, not move it around. If you think it’s just too big, you can always pull the ‘email bankruptcy’ card: that’s just deleting everything back to zero and starting from there, but I would advise you to send out an email to everyone on your contact list advising everyone you’re doing that. If someone sent something really important to you, they may need to resend it.
From that point forward, it’s simple. Block out a time once or twice a day, and process your inbox. Decision everything. Archive, Do, or Delete. DO NOT sit there and keep your box open all day long an do it as they come in. That’s how you lose attention to other things you’re doing real quick. Im not a believer in multitasking, and frankly, if you want to get anything done well, you shouldn’t be either.
Now, let’s head over to what I like to call the drawer of regret. It’s the black hole that you shove any piece of paper you can’t classify into a file with no actual reason. Here’s the really simple rule. With the exception of taxes, if it’s over a year old and you haven’t touched it, recycle it. Taxes you should keep for 7 years. Other documents you should keep are related to credit or identity. But you really dont need that menu from a restaurant you went to in 1998 and never went back to. Get RID of it.
The thing I think you should really consider is getting with a filing system that is where you are. I’m setting up Evernote to track all of this, and I’m using this post by Michael Hyatt to guide my setup. Also, linked in that post is a very detailed book called Evernote Essentials (at time of writing, 12.99, which was half off for a limited time) which goes into a LOT of detail. Get yourself a scanner or an all in one printer with scanning capability. Scan everything that comes to your inbox, store it in Evernote and tag it appropriately. Put a recycle bin nearby, and dont let the crap get anywhere near your inbox. Be ruthless with this. One less sheet left, one less shit given.
There’s one other box you should process. Your social media Inbox. Weed it out. Again, be ruthless. Cut the pages you liked years ago but havent heard from since. Look at the folks in your feed that give you nothing but grief. Just leave them behind. You dont have to make a production about it, just do it. Do the same for Twitter.
Speaking of Twitter, start making lists of people on Twitter. In fact, I’d make one called “The crap Im actually reading”, and just read that one. Make lists for your other interests, and once or twice a week, make sure you update those lists with your new followers.
And that’s a really high level version of how to careen your ship, kids. Put it in your calendar every three months, and spend a weekend getting it back in shape.