I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a lot of email addresses that I have to maintain regularly. I have my personal address, my business address, my spam address, and 10 or more client addresses. Clients often give me an email from their domain so when I’m communicating with their clients, vendors, or whomever else, it’s more cohesive. It may sound like a lot, but I don’t really mind. It actually helps me keep everything separated so I can focus on one client at a time without one massive inbox.

I’m pretty organized with my email. My inbox is my to-do list. Everything that’s been addressed gets filed into an appropriate folder, because you never know when you’ll need to reference something again, sometimes years later. I only delete things that would never have another use (like all of those “thanks” replies from everyone in a group email). It’s always a goal to have an empty inbox, or to at least be able to see some white space at the bottom of the list.

The inbox in my personal email tends to be the most cluttered. This is for all those things people send me that I mean to get to, but don’t always have time. All the articles I want to read, recipes I want to make, songs I need to hear, or videos I need to watch. I probably have stuff in there that’s at least a couple years old. I plan on getting around to it. I really do.

Last week, I finally had a bit of a break between jobs and thought about going through that inbox to clear it out. To do the things or delete them. I started, and then, of course, some work came up and I didn’t get back to it. I had every intention to do it, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Can you sense the foreshadowing here?

When I’m managing multiple projects, the “All Inboxes” folder in Outlook is helpful – it lets me see anything new that comes in so I can keep that open on my laptop while I’m doing actual work on my iMac. It’s part of my system. For one of the projects I’m working on, we use a site called frame.io – it’s lovely if you’re working with videos and want the client or your other team members to be able to see the current version for review and make comments at the exact timecode where it’s needed. It also emails notifications so you know when someone has responded or has a new question or note, so you don’t have to remember to log in to the site. It’s pretty handy.

But, on the first round of a video, especially a longer one, there can be a lot of comments, which means a lot of emails. Fortunately, those automatically get sorted into my “other” tab so they’re not in the primary section. But I do like to go through and delete those when I’m done. I dislike digital clutter as much as physical clutter.

So yesterday, we’d sent out the first version of a video and all the feedback had come in. I did what I normally do and hit command+A to select all, followed by delete. As I saw the little progress bar pop up, I realized something wasn’t right. Yep. I was still in the “All Accounts” folder, so I deleted all of the emails in every single inbox I have. There is no “undo” option for that mistake, in case you were wondering. I could go into the “Deleted Items” folder and move messages back into the inbox, so they’re not completely lost, but there is no identifying which emails had been there.

Fortunately, it was simple to retrieve the emails I needed for my client addresses – those are always up to date and almost everything gets filed, so there’s very little in the deleted folder. But my personal email? With everything I’ve saved for the last however many months to get to later? There’s no way I can remember or figure out everything that was living there waiting for me.

My initial reaction was to laugh. What else can you do in a situation like that? I had been meaning to clean out my inbox, so I guess I took care of that. Realistically, if something was in my inbox for that long, it probably wasn’t anything too important anyway. I think that was my unintentional way of starting over. Now I have all that white space I wanted and suddenly everything feels more manageable.

Sometimes things have a way of working out exactly how they’re meant to. It’s not always in our control. Sometimes it’s because of a mistake we made. Sometimes it’s because of something someone else did. And sometimes there isn’t an explanation at all. But putting things off, or doing nothing, just compounds everything and makes it into a bigger deal than it needs to be.

I know a lot of us are feeling the weight of everything going on, and little things that used to be simple suddenly seem like too much to manage. I’ve been talking to a lot of clients and friends who feel the same way. I know I seem to have forgotten how to read a calendar. I never seem to know what day it is and I keep mixing up dates for one reason or another. Then when I point it out, I’m usually met with a response that says, “Same” or “Me too.” If this sounds like you, first give yourself a break. Then, try to figure out some small steps you can take to get more organized, so you don’t feel like you’re falling behind. Utilize your calendar, email tools, or other apps. Schedule everything with alerts and reminders, even things you think you’ll remember. I have a weekly reminder in my phone to take out the trash. You’d think that would be an easy one to remember, but they changed my trash day and I kept forgetting until I heard the trucks outside and it was too late. And if you can’t get to something when the alarm goes off, set a new one so you don’t forget to do it later. Get those to-do items done so they’re not constantly looming over you.

I’m not suggesting to delete everything, but if there’s a way you can declutter your life, your business, your computer, your brain, or whatever feels too messy, make the time to do it. You might be surprised how much all of those little things are weighing you down.