Have you ever planned to respond to a particular message and then found yourself replying to new ones as they arrive? Of course you have. We’ve all done it.
This is a classic example of processing urgent tasks that aren’t necessarily important and as a result not making the best use of your time. The fact that a message has just arrived and popped up at the top of your inbox may make it seem like it’s urgent or important, but this isn’t always the case. It can definitely grab our attention and we often understandably succumb to the temptation to respond to the newest message right away.
Reverse the Order
Today’s tip constitutes one of many ways to refocus yourself on what is truly important in the moment: Sort your inbox from oldest to newest. This is the opposite of what most email and other messaging software does by default.
The problem with sorting from newest to oldest is not only that it lets new yet not necessarily important messages rise to the top of your attention, but also that it lets important messages fall completely out of sight no matter how important they are — just because they happen to be older.
Try responding to messages using this approach and see what happens as well as what the experience feels like.
Reap the Benefits
I’ve found a few benefits by following this process:
- I often felt anxious about older messages that were clogging up my inbox because I knew they were there but didn’t remember what they said. Once I flipped the order and started going through them, I realized that many were no longer relevant, didn’t need to be responded to, and could quickly be deleted or filed away without taking any action. This reduces the size of my inbox and thus decreases my anxiety level.
- Older messages that are important and therefore require my attention now rise to the top of the inbox and keep my attention. I can now respond to these messages or at least come up with a plan for responding to them.
- Maybe most importantly, new messages show up at the bottom of my inbox, so they either don’t grab my attention immediately or don’t even appear on my screen at all while I am focused on responding to older messages.
Switch Back When Necessary
For those of you who are skeptical of sorting your messages this way because you’re afraid of missing some, you may not want to do this all the time.
Instead, you could try this out once a day or a few times a day when you want to clear out old messages in a focused and efficient manner. You can then simply change the order back again so that messages are displayed from newest to oldest. All messaging software allows you to easily toggle the order in which messages are displayed with a single click or tap.
By mindfully choosing which order to sort your messages in, you can not only make better use of your time and ensure that you respond to older yet still important messages, but you’ll also decrease the anxiety stemming from old messages lingering in your inbox.