By Karen Axelton

photo gardenRecently I had a computer meltdown and, as part of the repair process, had to sort through 37,000 emails to decide which to keep and which to delete–permanently.

At first, I was in a tizzy. What if I deleted something urgent by mistake and needed it later? Then I remembered that, about a year ago, Gmail mysteriously zapped 6 months’ worth of my emails. For a while, I was furious–but in the long run (and even the short run) it didn’t really matter. For emails that were crucially important (a contract, for instance), I had printed them out and filed them. For all the others, there were plenty of ways to get them again – ask my business partners if they had a copy; ask the other party or; in the worst-case scenario, admit that I’d lost the email and ask the person to send it again.

Feeling freed from the weight of all those emails, I started deleting. And my second discovery was–most of those precious emails I’d been saving were not important at all, because the information could easily be found elsewhere online.

The biggest revelation? At least 50 percent of my email was stuff I never read. I’m talking discount offers, irrelevant e-newsletters, or messages from a company that I had ordered one toner cartridges from a year ago. In many cases, I’d been deleting the emails every day, feeling a twinge of annoyance every time I did it but convinced that I couldn’t spare a moment to unsubscribe from the person’s email list.

Since deleting those 37,000 emails, I’ve been on a mission to purge the useless junk from my work life. I faithfully unsubscribed to every unwanted email (it only took a few hours) and now, if something unwanted shows up in my inbox, I immediately unsubscribe and/or report it as spam.

The experience got me thinking about how easily clutter seeps into other areas of our business lives. Clutter can be digital (information), physical (books, old office equipment that doesn’t work but that you hold on anyway), emotional (colleagues whose proposals haven’t paid off, but who you keep in touch with out of habit), or mental (ideas you keep running through in your head, but never acting on).

Clutter and organizing experts will tell you that clutter saps your energy. Storing, organizing and maintaining it takes time and mental effort. For me, decluttering my email has kick-started decluttering in other areas. The whole process has been like weeding a garden. Without the clutter of useless information, I can quickly focus on what really matters–and my productivity is blooming.

What are you holding onto? Release the clutter, and watch your business bloom.