I consider myself a reasonably tech-savvy Gen Xer, and setting up my newly opened Gmail account would take 15 to 20 minutes, tops. Being an expert email user for most of my adult life and a master of creating folders in Outlook for years, I knew what I was doing, or so I thought.
It took several minutes to understand labels equated to folders in Gmail language. I typed in the description, checked the messages I wanted to move, dragged them over, and tada, they were still in my inbox - WTH? I frantically googled how to create groups and transfer content. In horror, I learned Gmail uses labels that don't automatically move correspondence out of the inbox. They produce this tag in the subject line that you can filter, but everything remains. I felt nauseated, discovering I couldn't drag and drop messages into a folder. Making matters worse, everything stayed in my inbox even when filed or labeled unless I deleted them. Who deletes all their emails?
What kind of person creates an electronic mail system where you can't dump items into a designated collection? They stay in your inbox unless you delete them? Highlighting, clicking, and dragging to a destination in Outlook took seconds. I used that framework forever to accumulate emails beginning sometime after AOL and dial-up.
To exclude all those directly labeled, one contributor suggested filtering them by unlabeled text in the inbox. That was a possible option, but I could do better. The next inquiry focused on how labels prevented people from becoming digital hoarders. Dear God, was I an email hoarder? Studies show at least four types of digital hoarders: anxious, accidental, compliance, and organized.
Anxious storers of digital material saved all emails for the future, just in case. The accidental email oversaver doesn't know how to create a system to manage it all, so it grows by avoidance. The compliance email collector is a co-worker or boss who saves everything because someone told them it might be important. The organized accumulator feels control by creating highly digitized file folder color-coded systems with messages never seen again.
I like to think I am progressive and adaptable. Identifying myself as a disorganized keeper of all things email left me displeased. I stared at the computer screen tensing my face, determined to develop a system that worked for me with this doggone Gmail. I wanted to leave my electronic hoarding days behind. I started creating tags and color-coding them. I learned how to use the filter and discovered the archive button. Even when you archive emails in Gmail, they retain their identifiers and stay in the groupings you create. But this was when the magic happened - they were removed from the inbox without using filters or codes.
Now, I could easily go back to my organized digital packrat ways or turn over a new virtual leaf and declutter my mailbox without falling into my hoarding habit. It's too late for my personal Outlook account, but I vow to do right by my new work email. I will delete what I can and only keep what I need.
"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending." - C.S. Lewis.
That quote by C.S. Lewis became my new mantra this past year after quitting my job. I took some serious inventory of my life to revamp my career trajectory by becoming a freelance writer, which meant changing everything. I now approach situations through an intentional lens to manage my life differently.
I embraced my upgraded system rather than curse it and lament about the email frameworks of yesteryear. Admittedly, my initial instinct to return to Outlook and my comfort zone plagued me. But then I took a breath with positive energy and focused on making this work. I committed to a clutter-free Gmail email life. When I opened myself up to rethinking my old habits rather than regressing, I could invest in a better process and not waste this opportunity for growth.
I know what you're thinking - it's just an email. Who cares if you stuff it in endless folders? - It's not that serious, and it's not a big deal. But it is, and here's why: All those small folders of change we make each day without reverting to outdated strategies add up to big files of progress and transformation over time.
Refusing to adapt, whether with email, modifying eating habits, or leaving a job that no longer serves your mental and physical well-being, leads to regret.
"You can't expect to achieve new goals or move beyond your current circumstances by doing the same things you've always done." - Les Brown.
Leading a life with purpose and personal development starts by improving one file folder system at a time, resisting the urge to regress to the familiar.
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