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?

About 

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.