It's "clean out your inbox week"

How many e-mails are sitting in your inbox right now -- 30? 100? More than 1,000?

That's how many messages I had accumulated in my inbox last spring. I tend to use my inbox as an unofficial to-do list, keeping e-mails there until I've finished dealing with them. That's OK if you get less than 30 e-mails a day and you can knock them down quickly, but those days are long past for me. I field more like 100 to 150 messages a day, and that's low by many people's standards.

When Computerworld switched from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange over the summer and we were told our old e-mails wouldn't make the journey to the new server, it seemed like a great opportunity to break my messy inbox habit. And after the switch I was pretty good about keeping down the number of messages in my inbox ... at first.

But old habits die hard. Although Outlook makes it easy to flag messages for follow-up, then move them to a folder so they're out of your inbox but easy to find later, there were some messages that didn't seem to belong in any of my folders, or that I really did intend to respond to and then delete forever, or that I simply didn't think belonged on my official to-do list for whatever reason.

And so over time the number of e-mails in my inbox gradually crept up. Right now I've got 127 messages sitting there, 65 of them unread. Whoops, two more just came -- make that 129 messages, 67 of them unread.

This morning when I saw a press release in my inbox declaring January 25 - 29 the third annual "Clean Out Your Inbox Week," I knew it was meant for me. Granted, the person who has declared it Clean Out Your Inbox Week is Marsha Egan, an "e-mail productivity expert" and author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-Mail Excellence, who also happens to sell a $70 Clean Out Your Inbox Week e-Kit. Nevertheless, keeping a clean inbox is a good idea, and this seems as good a week as any to tackle it.

Although it sounds mighty appealing, I'm not going to go the "e-mail amnesty" route, in which you simply wipe out all the unanswered mail in your inbox and start over. Instead, my goal is to sort through about 30 old messages each day (in addition to all the new mail that comes in), responding to and deleting or filing away messages as appropriate.

And clearly I need to set up better filtering rules to sort e-mail as it arrives, before it hits my inbox. Maybe this time I'll be able to make my clean inbox stick.

Readers, what about you -- do you keep a clean inbox? What tips do you have for avoiding inbox clutter? Please post your tips in the comments area below.

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