This is the 5th post in the “A Conversation With” series, where I interview talented people about their areas of expertise focused on nonprofits.
Lisa Linard, Professional Organizer & Move Manager is on a mission to help individuals get control over their “stuff” so they can be more productive and feel at peace in their homes.
In our conversation, she shares common email management struggles with clients, the first steps to decluttering your inbox, and 3 actions you can take today to feel more in control when you next open your laptop.
Tell me a little bit about you, your philosophy and your passion for organizing.
I’m someone who sees the value in being organized, and my parents modeled the skills for me from an early age. I like feeling in control of my space and time and being able to find what I need when I need it makes life run more smoothly. And I enjoy helping others get to that state in their homes and digital lives.
I started my business in 2018 after I was laid off from a corporate marketing job. I joined the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO), and that opened up a whole new world for me. I learned about the emotional aspects of disorganization as well as the more practical “how-to” tips and tricks, and the discipline of organizing became much more interesting to me.
From a practical perspective, I put function before form. Your physical and digital spaces need to work for you, based on your habits and what feels intuitive. If your office is full of beautiful matching bins but you can’t find your stapler when you need it, or if you have 99 color-coded folders in your email but you can’t find the email about your flight that leaves in an hour, then they’re not well organized.
From an emotional perspective, I teach people that “it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be perfect for you.” Don’t worry about what the magazines and Instagram tell you it should look like. You have to have a system that works for you because otherwise, you won’t be able to maintain it.
When people do find the perfect systems for them, they’re able to make them stick, which boosts their confidence and gives them the motivation to keep going. And that’s when their lives begin to run more smoothly.
What are some common struggles that you see with your clients and their email inboxes?
First off, everyone has “too many” emails in their inbox. It’s a fact of modern life that cannot be avoided! It’s OK. But it can be better.
One of the most common practices I see is creating layers of folders that are too granular and too deep. I like a flat folder structure so I don’t have to dig down to find things. For example, a folder called FAMILY is granular enough for me…I don’t need a sub-folder for every member of my family.
On a side note, I’m a big fan of Google’s products, especially Gmail, Drive, and Google Photos, because their search functionality is amazing. When you can easily use search to find things, you don’t even necessarily need to organize them in folders.
The other thing I hear about all the time is the quest for “Inbox Zero.” I ask people why they feel they need to have zero emails in their inbox. You wouldn’t believe how many times people say, “My [boss/husband/sister] says it stresses them out to see the number of unread emails I have.”
Inbox Zero is this unrealistic goal that people think they should be able to attain, but they can’t really articulate why.
It turns out it’s not about the number. Usually, it’s that they can’t find things when they need them or that they miss important emails.
So I teach them how to get rid of what they don’t need (a.k.a. decluttering) and tips and tricks to help them manage the rest. The number is really irrelevant, and it’s self-defeating.
Why are you so passionate about helping people tidy up their inboxes?
Being organized is very trendy right now, which is great because it’s changing people’s attitudes and behaviors around accumulating unnecessary “stuff” (both physical and digital).
But it’s also created this pressure where people feel like their homes have to look like Real Simple magazine and that they have to get to that Inbox Zero every night before they go to bed.
When I ask people how they feel about their disorganization, the words I hear most are “ashamed” and “embarrassed.” They feel like bad people because their spaces don’t look like the ones in the magazines, and the home screen on their phone says they have 134,982 unread emails.
They close off entire sections of their house and create entirely new email accounts to avoid seeing their mess!
My goal is to turn those negative feelings into positive ones and to help them change both their spaces and their habits so they can feel more in control and turn their energy toward more important things.
I just want people to feel content when they walk into their homes, and on top of things when they open their laptops.
What do you suggest to your clients as the first step to declutter their inboxes?
Instead of thinking about what you want the end result to look like, ask yourself:
- What am I bumping up against every day that’s making me crazy?
- Why is that happening?
- What can I do to fix that one thing?
If you’re missing important emails because they’re swimming in a pool of junk email, start unsubscribing from the junk emails as they come in.
If you can’t find emails you need when you need them, learn how to use Gmail’s search functionality. It is truly powerful!
What are 3 specific actions everyone can take today to begin to declutter their inboxes?
- Bulk-delete all promotional emails. If you use Gmail, this is super easy. Go into your settings and set your Inbox type to Default. This will group your emails into four tabs across the top of the page. Go into the Promotions tab, select ALL of the emails using the checkbox at the top of the list, and delete them. Trust me, you don’t need them. (And they’ll be in your Trash for 30 days if you do!)
- Unsubscribe. The next time an email comes into your inbox that you don’t want, instead of scrolling past it, take 7 seconds to open it, unsubscribe, and delete it.
- Experiment with inbox settings. Most email programs have different ways you can configure your inbox so you don’t miss important emails. Try out the different options until you find one that works for you.
Where can people connect with you online?
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ABOUT JENNY BELANGER
I am a web designer for small businesses, solopreneurs, and nonprofits. Like you, I find myself with only so many hours in a day to get things done. Website design, marketing, and tech tools are my thing and I am truly passionate about you get the best results without all the tech overwhelm. Let’s chat and see how I can help you.