Stop the Noise!

I’m not a naturally stressy person.

I’m actually pretty laid back.

But I bet I’m not the only person who sits down at their computer with a sinking heart, watching the unread emails go from triple to quadruple figures. I don’t deal well with mess on the dining room floor, and I don’t deal well with mess on my hard drive, either.

See, the problem with replying to emails is then people reply to the reply. And then there’s the newsletters, the notifications, the email alerts, the pointless spammy SEO emails, press releases… it’s endless. Whatever you try to focus on, you’re constantly distracted by the background noise of notifications and messages.

So this week I’m embarking on what I like to call Project Stop the Noise (yes, in my head I am playing a kick-ass theme tune whenever I say that). It kicked off with me taking a couple of days off Twitter and Facebook (well, almost) to think about ways of working smarter. And here’s what I came up with.

Step 1: Automate, automate

One of my biggest challenges is that as fast as I can respond to emails, more emails are coming in. It means I miss stuff. So, I’ve created automated rules to filter messages as they arrive – website messages about log-ins and passwords are best dealt with in batches so they go off to one folder. Things like new accounts on websites, renewal payments from clients and event registrations are really just for my records, so they go off to their own folders.

Step 2: Pre-written emails

Another thing I’ve noticed is that around 50% of my email is a question that generally needs one of 10 or so responses. I write the same thing over and over each week, to different people – bloggers, PRs, potential advertisers… So I’ve pre-written the responses and can now drop them into an email at the click of a button – you can use Quick Parts on a PC to do this, on a Mac you just create different signatures for messages, which incorporate the reply.

Step 3: Turn off notifications

Looking at Facebook last night, I saw that (by default) there are 75 different reasons for Facebook to email me. Someone’s my friend, someone tagged me, someone mentioned me, someone replied to me – blah, blah. I see all of this when I visit Facebook, so I’ve un-ticked all notifications. Although I was amused to see I still got a notification this morning to tell me someone I know is now friends with someone else I know. Holy shit. Talk about breaking news. I’ve also turned off notifications on Twitter, blog comments, Pinterest, LinkedIn and the forums I belong to.

Step 4: Stop being a joiner

I’ve deleted old Facebook pages I no longer use and have left the 10 or so random groups people have added me to. And this morning when I logged into my computer and saw 23 junk-type emails I clicked on ‘unsubscribe’ in all of them. Kudos to Amazon for sending me not one, but two emails letting me know I no longer want emails from them.

Step 5: Don’t read rubbish

Despite saying three times on my blog that I don’t accept guest posts, I still receive around 10 emails a day from people offering to write a guest post on my blog. I’ve now set up a rule that if an email mentions both ‘guest post’ and ‘link’ then it’s automatically deleted without me ever seeing it. I have some other filter words too, but I’m not telling you what they are *evil face*

Step 6: Deal with small annoyances

Like many Mac users, turns out my incredibly expensive shiny computer is utterly useless at maintaining a WiFi connection and the recent ‘fix’ from Apple only succeeded in making the problem worse. Rather than constantly wasting time turning my WiFi on and off, and restarting my router a dozen times a day, I made an appointment for a BT engineer to put in a new master phone socket this morning, so I can use a wired connection for my work computer.

Step 7: A One Touch Policy

Someone told me last week the secret to being more efficient is having a one-touch policy where possible – if you can deal with something right away, then do it. I’m honestly not sure how well this is going to work for me, but I’m happy to give it a shot. Dream big, right?

And here is is, friends. An empty inbox. I haven’t had one of those since… well, before email was invented, I expect.

I’m sure this is only part of an ongoing process and I doubt I’m going to keep my inbox in this zen state for too long – so I would genuinely LOVE to know your tips on making online life a bit more manageable – how do you keep order in your inbox?


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 16th May 2012 / 8:28 am

    Wow, how liberating! I have about 8000 emails in my inbox (I think those are actually only the unread ones!) and lose the will to live every time i even think about sorting it out….I reckon it would take me all week!
    Suzanne recently posted..Learning the art of: becoming a responsible parentMy Profile

    • 16th May 2012 / 8:32 am

      I thought the same – I got up to 34,000 unread emails at one point. But honestly, 2 days solid organising and it’s all done – which is a REALLY nice feeling 🙂

  2. 16th May 2012 / 8:32 am

    Hi Sally – loved this blog post. I too have several sub-folders and use the CREATE RULE a bit too often I suspect. Also decided to press the DELETE button a bit more frequent so that I don’t hold on to emails too long anymore…

    • 16th May 2012 / 8:34 am

      Ha! Yes, I found I was keeping emails I really didn’t need to.

  3. 16th May 2012 / 8:35 am

    I think it can be done.

    I also think there’s a tendency (maybe it’s just me) to get involved in the competitive, “No, I’m busier than you” game. Nobody really needs to deal with 10,000 emails unless they’re running a major organisation. Most of it is automated nonsense, that I reckon we need to look at honestly and say NO, I don’t need that – and get rid. (Let’s see how long it lasts, eh?)

  4. 16th May 2012 / 8:36 am

    Great advice, my MacBook is hardwired, I have some filters but I need more & key words – great ideas. I would add “unsubscribe” to the list there were lots of newsletters and marketing emails which I are either no longer relevant to me or I don’t need, I need less temptation so you can keep your offers thanks! Whatever it is I can find in less than 3seconds on google I don’t need the extra emails in my inbox! So unsubscribe is my tip. Claire

    • 16th May 2012 / 1:57 pm

      Yes, but unsubscribing is proving REALLY hard – so many people just ignore you!

    • 16th May 2012 / 1:57 pm

      Thanks – good luck!

  5. 16th May 2012 / 8:47 am

    My inbox is a serious mess. It would definitely take at least a day to sort it. Thanks for this. It’s a topic I wrote about for a magazine some years ago but your tips have blown mine out of the water. Plus, I’m likely to now actually do something about my email – I never take my own advice.
    Circus Queen recently posted..Yeogurt fit for a baby’s hairMy Profile

    • 16th May 2012 / 1:57 pm

      Ooh, hope it goes well 🙂

    • 16th May 2012 / 1:57 pm

      Tough, isn’t it?

  6. 16th May 2012 / 9:01 am

    Recently two of my friends were hacked and all their contacts were sent one of those “I’m stuck abroad and desperately need money” emails. No one is fooled by that anymore but the result was that they both lost everything that was in their emails (even email folders). So that’s one good reason to send important stuff to your computer files. (NB – I’ve not actually done this myself yet but I keep meaning to.)

    One thing I like though, is the notifications from fb. It means I can reads everything in one place and immediately delete it, rather than clicking around all over fb. Ditto notifications from Disqus about replies to my comments – means i don’t have to go back to the blog in question to see if i have a reply.

    Enjoy your new space. 🙂
    Midlife Singlemum recently posted..#TheGallery – MorningMy Profile

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:55 pm

      Thanks – I do automatically back up all my emails to 2 web archives and a cloud archive, as well as a hard drive, so I think I’m covered 😉

  7. 16th May 2012 / 9:04 am

    I regularly have unsubscribe phases and I try to delete random noise stuff as I go along. Comping can generate a lot of spam so I have a separate email address for it and its own inbox. Clearing it out is quite quick, I delete unless I think it’s of value (like it’s telling me I’ve won something) in which case I read. I file a lot away in other folders quite quickly and I tend to keep what’s in my inbox down to what I need to action or reply to. Blog comments are the thing that can mount up – so I try to reply them quickly or in one big go and then all the notifications get binned.

    I delete as much as I can and I am quite ruthless. There is only one email in my inbox this morning. It varies a lot but it’s never too bad because I’ve always tried to keep on top of it.
    Kate recently posted..Doubly MAD, doubly WOW!My Profile

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:55 pm

      Yes, my problem is having six email addresses, all quite busy!

  8. 16th May 2012 / 9:52 am

    The one I fail on is the one-click-wonder – I’m terrible for leaving things in my inbox ‘to come back to’ and then have to spend a day once a week to actually action what would have taken me 2 minutes at the time.
    The only one I’d add is Bloglovin’s daily update. I was drowning in my Google Reader, so I started adding any blog I read that I genuinely enjoyed and went out of my way to read into BlogLovin, which mails me once a day with the latest posts. That way Google Reader is there anytime I want to browse, but the don’t-want-miss-a-thing’s are all tidily in my inbox for me to glance through.
    Laura Hitchcock recently posted..Spotted! Perfect Car rug.My Profile

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:55 pm

      Indeed, I’m thinking this is BAD and I must break the habit… good tip on Blog Lovin., though, will take a look

  9. Aimee Harrison
    16th May 2012 / 12:59 pm

    Delegate (to another person)
    Deal (reply & then file away)

    Nice and simple.

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:56 pm

      I don’t have enough people to delegate or enough hours in the day to deal, sometimes. Therein lies my problem!

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:56 pm

      Go on, you can do it!

  10. Nat
    16th May 2012 / 12:42 pm

    I’m not on Facebook. That takes care of a whole load of problems right there!

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:56 pm

      Smart decision.

  11. 16th May 2012 / 1:47 pm

    One tip that I used when I was in CS and getting too many emails was to spend less time on email. Spend ten minutes in the morning dealing with things that came in over night, ten minutes before you go to lunch, ten minutes before you take an afternoon break (eg pick up Flea) and ten minutes before you turn off at night. It worked for me, so I now make sure that before I turn off at night I quickly deal with it and try to keep it low.

    I also like to keep things categorised and I have filters too. You even have a special tile on my phone so I don’t miss your important emails!
    PippaD @ A Mothers Ramblings recently posted..The Birthday Boy – Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • 16th May 2012 / 2:57 pm

      That’s such a good idea – I need to pay less attention but I suspect I still need a good 2 hours a day just responding to emails.

  12. 16th May 2012 / 2:57 pm

    I suppose mine’s odd because I have such a weird amalgam of work and social life, that it’s all in one big mess!

  13. Di
    16th May 2012 / 8:04 pm

    Love this post. In fact I’m going to email it to myself and flag it in my inbox so I remember to deal with all the nonsense I have in there!!

    • 17th May 2012 / 8:30 am

      Excellent plan. I approve of being flagged.

  14. 16th May 2012 / 9:08 pm

    you are not alone – this seriously, SERIOUSLY (yes all shouty!) stresses me out as well….on the back of this post I have turned off my facebook notifcations, baby steps and all!!

    GOing to look at this properly now. Been very ostrich about the whole thing if the truth be told!
    Super Amazing Mum recently posted..Me, James Martin and MushroomsMy Profile

    • 17th May 2012 / 8:29 am

      Hurrah! So glad to have inspired you, a bit.

  15. 16th May 2012 / 9:19 pm

    Sometimes for sanity’s sake stepping back for a minute is the only option. ALSO, WTF with the sponsored posts things. I get about a million (maybe an exaggeration) a day. So annoying.
    Kat recently posted..Organically Growing Your AudienceMy Profile

    • 17th May 2012 / 8:29 am

      Auto-delete. Good for the inbox, good for the blood pressure.

  16. qlddeb
    17th May 2012 / 1:11 am

    The one touch policy does work, I use it at work were I sort 3 different inboxes. Sometimes you can get stuck on one thing, but even if it seems to take ages to sort, it’s still quicker than jumping all over the place.

    Keep up the good work!

    • 17th May 2012 / 8:29 am

      Thanks! My inbox is still clear, so fingers crossed.

  17. 17th May 2012 / 8:12 am

    Interesting article It’s so very true about the Wifi signal dropping !
    I shall be following all your tips x
    Claire Toplis recently posted..#Cybher…. Baring allMy Profile

    • 17th May 2012 / 8:29 am

      Thanks Claire 🙂

  18. Dan Thornton
    17th May 2012 / 11:20 am

    OK, that’s freaky – I finally got to inbox zero yesterday after about a month of messing around. One thing I did straight away which helped was just archive anything pre-2012. If they haven’t emailed me back to chase, it can’t have been that important…

  19. Merry
    17th May 2012 / 11:17 pm

    Thats very inspiring. I’m working on similar but never seem to get past tidying my bedroom and making a list. It’s annoying.

  20. Claire
    18th May 2012 / 6:20 pm

    Signature idea is genius!

  21. 15th June 2012 / 8:52 am

    I’m betting one of those filter words is “Mummy” 😉
    My inbox isn’t too bad, apart from being full of Hubspot downloadable free ebooks that I keep meaning to read when I get time. I guess I should just delete them.
    It is really difficult not to spend the whole day on Facebook chatting, and most of it is really helpful so I don’t want to miss it, but I feel very narked off when I’ve achieved nothing other than Facebook in a day!
    Actually Mummy… recently posted..GG interviews author Safia Guerras about her first book: Lou LouMy Profile