Fixing My Productivity Mess: Part 1 – Email

The end of another year is approaching. Fast. December often brings a few weeks of downtime. Work starts trailing off in the first or second week of December, and I’m usually back at it full speed by the second week of January. 

As I shared in my previous post, I have a real mess. I have made many attempts to get organized. They all fail. I have tried a lot of tools, watched way too many YouTube videos, and spent many hours researching and reading blog posts.

Why a System Matters

I am a self-employed house painter, with hopes to do something more fulfilling, enjoyable, and less physically demanding. The things I’m hoping to do will require much of my spare time and energy. It will require confidence and drive. It will require research, writing, and organization. 

A website, a podcast, and all of the upkeep they require can easily fall apart when you’re not organized and can’t keep track of your information.

Unfortunately, it won’t be a podcast or blog about productivity, so productivity won’t be the focus, it will be the process that helps accomplish other goals.

Why Now?

As a single person, I don’t have a lot of commitments to take up my time outside of work during the holidays, and as a painting contractor, there isn’t usually a lot of work to do. Clients don’t usually want me disrupting their house for several days during the holidays. 

Most years, I seem to attempt to use the time to do projects that I’ve been putting off. 

I usually spend several hours clearing hundreds or thousands of emails from inboxes into many email accounts. Why do I have so many email accounts anyways? 

That transitions from email to other digital inboxes.

  • Apple Notes 
  • Drafts app
  • Evernote 
  • Workflowy 
  • Simplenote
  • Instapaper
  • Pocket
  • Feedly
  • Browser tabs, and tab groups

As the days pass, it turns into planning to do things for the next year. 

No Magic Tools

I usually have really big grandiose ideas. There are three different podcasts have always wanted to do, and one of them would involve a fairly large website. I want to write a personal blog, with a personal podcast. I want to eventually help others make podcasts.

Inevitably, this all leads to an attempt at creating a productivity system that I know I won’t stick to. I won’t stick to the plan, because I keep trying to solve the problem with some sort of magic tool, but it doesn’t exist. There is no app or set of tools that will make me get organized. They can help remove friction, but I have to do the work. To get a handle on things and have any chance at even beginning to work on the things I want to do, I have to evaluate my current situation and clean up the mess.

Back to square one: Email

I spent several evenings last week sorting through emails and cleaning up the inboxes. I have 4 different Gmail accounts and an account. Why? Well, there were good reasons at the time. My main email is my personal account. I have one for my Painting business, and I’ve run different websites and social media accounts. I think it’s best to keep unrelated social accounts separate if possible. This helps protect you against account flags or suspensions, and it makes turning accounts over to somebody else really simple.

My main email (the one for all of my personal mail, subscriptions, app logins, bills, etc) had over six thousand mostly unread emails in the inbox. Yes, six THOUSAND! This project was tedious. 

First, I looked at all of the starred emails and archived almost all of them. Then I searched for any email containing the word RECEIPT in the subject line. After reviewing those, I archived all of them. Then, I started hitting SELECT ALL, scanning the list and unchecking any I want to look at, and deleting the rest.

After a few pages of this (Gmail shows fifty emails per page), I looked through all of the emails that I had unchecked and archived them.

I kept following this process until all of the emails in my inbox fit on the first page, so less than 50.

Every day since then, I have ruthlessly cleaned out my inbox every morning, and every evening. Lots of deleting. Lots of unsubscribing. 

I did the same with all of my accounts, but they only took a few minutes each. 

What did I learn?

First, Apple Mail (iPad) doesn’t do well with a lot of emails selected at a time. It would often freeze or crash. Also, the trash can in Apple mail is two clicks away from the mail list.

Second, the Gmail app on iOS is not very good. There isn’t a select all function and if you are trying to quickly select more than one email at a time by selecting one, scrolling, then holding shift while selecting another email, if there is an advertisement email in the list, it won’t work.

It turned out that doing this process works best on

I also learned that deleting and unsubscribing is your friend, and a couple of minutes in the morning and the evening processing email can save a lot of time.

In part two, I will tackle the next chore; my note-taking apps.






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