That’s a picture of my inbox. Yes. It’s completely empty. In an instant, it went from containing over 200 messages to 0.

I was stunned.

It was an accident. I was trying to set an Apple Mail rule to delete any messages that were more than a year old. I have all my email, from 5 different email addresses – organized in my Apple Mail.

First, I set a rule to delete all of my sent messages that were sent more than 365 days earlier. That worked well. Then, as I attempted to set a similar rule on messages that I’d received, I accidentally hit the “less than” button instead of selecting “greater than”. And there they went – bam! Every email I’d received in the last year – including all of the ones from that Monday morning and most from the weekend before – gone!

I sat there staring at the empty inbox for a few minutes. Then I checked the online resource where I’d found the instructions to setup this rule, and my worst fears were confirmed:

“This action will be permanent and irrevocable. You will not be able to retrieve these messages. Ever.”

Hmmm….

I was suddenly very uncomfortable. Without the emails to sort, respond to, sort some more … I didn’t know what to do with myself! I was used to email taking me two hours on Monday mornings. Now they were all gone, and I was lost.

Still in shock, I started to compile a list of the names that I’d glimpsed in my inbox before I’d had my coffee. One by one I reached out explaining the situation. Then, I reached out to people that I’d been hoping to hear from, just in case I’d deleted their emails without knowing it. Then, I thought back over the emails that I’d been saving, and made notes to follow up with those folks as well.

You see, I’d been using my inbox part for communication, and part as a makeshift filing system for storing things to follow up on later. I’d mark it unread. Again, and again, and again. I’d been doing this for years.

As I sat there, still unsure what to do with the next few hours, I started to feel liberated…

I realized that I’d been hiding in the busy-ness of my email for years. That sort, re-sort, sort again, part communication, part make-shift filing system way of working had been creating extra work. It made my inner martyr happy. However, it didn’t make me as efficient, productive, or joyous as doing things another way might.

So I made the decision to file items for follow up in a task manager. I’ve spent the last four weeks getting my messages down to 10 or less every day. That created more time to do other things. More space, in my inbox, my day, and in me. I was uncomfortable with the space at first. I felt fluttery. I felt almost addicted to the old way of working hard, struggling, and not getting to the important things.

It’s been nearly a month. I’m starting to get comfortable with that extra space. Frankly, I’m probably writing this message with the extra time that’s been freed up by the email space. 😉

Where are you hiding in an old busy-ness pattern that no longer works for you? What could you do with your time if you were no longer distracting yourself from what matters most?

With passion & love,
Lauri