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International Generalist #11: Email Cleaning, Morning Walks, & The Frustration List

How I got from 62k to 0 unread emails, and more actionable insights to make you just a tiny bit more effective.

Dominik Nitsch
5 min read

Welcome to the 11th edition of International Generalist. Today, we’ll look at reducing digital clutter, walking as part of your morning routine, and a system to eliminate annoyances in your life.

If you don’t find this valuable, you can always unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. If you like it, tell your friends to subscribe here. It’s the best way to support this newsletter. :)

Let’s dive in.

[1] A comprehensive guide to email cleaning (62k → 0 unread emails!)

If all your inboxes are already at zero unread, continue reading at [2].

Does the picture above stress you out?

Welcome to my life: Thousands of unread emails were staring me in the face. Every single day.

I watched my private inbox grow from 40k, to 50k, to 60k. The subtle stress was real - in fact, a 2017 study showed that clutter leads to more procrastination and a significant decrease in life satisfaction (!).

So last week, I put up the courage and decided to actually deal with it, and to get to Inbox Zero.

Going through 62k emails manually was off the table. I needed systems - both to get to zero, but also to stay at zero. So I made a plan. Here’s what happened:

[1.1] Recent Email Checking & Unsubscribing

I started with going through all unread emails that I had received in the last three months in order to ensure I hadn't missed anything relevant. Usually, after a few weeks, most problems resolve itself anyway, so I figured three months would be a good time window.

When going through these emails, I also unsubscribed from any newsletter that I didn't want to continue receiving.

I had no idea I was receiving so many commercial newsletters - some running shop where I had ordered once had sent me upwards of 400 emails over the past two years. Incredible.

Thank God for GDPR that actually allows you to unsubscribe at the bottom of each email (you won't hear me say that often, but this is a great example of its benefits)

I also moved all obvious spam to the spam folder.

[1.2] Mass Deletion

Once I was through with that (and had unsubscribed from like 200 newsletters), it was time to tackle the remaining emails. I did this by:

  • Going back to a random point in my inbox
  • Picking an unread email that I didn’t need anymore (Pro tip - also search for stuff like package tracking, payment confirmations, order confirmations etc and get them out of the inbox)
  • Copy & pasting the sender address into the search bar
  • Delete all of them (using CMD + A, then backspace) (front runner was Quora with roughly 2k emails)
  • If the email might be relevant in the future, I simply marked it as read.

Doing this for about 90 minutes got me down to roughly 13k unread emails. Not bad.

[1.3] Final Touches

At this point, I saw diminishing returns, often catching only 5-6 emails with the above strategy. Figuring that I didn’t want to delete all unread, I cheated and marked all of them as “read”.

Boom. What a relieving feeling.

In total, I deleted ~50k emails and marked 13k as read. It was quite satisfying.

[1.4] Ensuring the Inbox Stays Clean

Now it was time to implement the systems:

  • Every time a newsletter comes in that I don't want to receive, I unsubscribe directly
  • All desirable newsletters are sent to a separate email address so I can have them in a "to read at my leisure" inbox

For everything else coming in, I use the Inbox Zero framework.

[1.5] Inbox Zero Framework

It consists of 4 steps:

  1. Delete: Will I need this again? If not, delete.
  2. Delegate: Am I the best person to handle this (highly likely in case of my private inbox, but helps in professional contexts)? If not, forward it.
  3. Defer: Will this take a bit longer to reply? If so, put it on my task list.
  4. Do: Will this take 2mins or less to reply? If yes, handle it right away.

Overall, I feel much more at ease now, and confident I'll be able to handle the influx of email just like I'm able to do it at work (where, with a fresh email address, this was never an issue).

If you feel like unsubscribing now to keep your inbox clean, I won’t blame you. Means the above section did its job. 😉

Photo by Fausto Sandoval on Unsplash

[2] A new addition to the morning routine: walking

Morning routines are powerful. In fact, there's even a book about the morning routines of famous people.

Morning routines allow you to basically never have a bad day by getting the most important stuff done first.

I recently made one adjustment to mine: right after I wake up, I throw on clothes and go for a walk around the block (10-15min). When I get back, I want to directly dive into work, full of energy.

Prior to this adjustment, my morning routine was so elaborate it took me 75-90 minutes to just go through it.

Now, I’ve moved Yoga and Journaling to the evening, and eat breakfast after my first deep work block, cutting out the biggest time consumers.

As someone called it on Reddit, walking is "free therapy". Getting that every morning can't be so bad.

Side note: I also realize that if you have a dog, this is probably the most normal thing in the world. But if you don’t … it’s a game changer.

[3] A system for making life less annoying: The Frustration List

A charger doesn’t charge properly. A friend says something that ticks you off. A curtain doesn’t close fully.

All these are minor annoyances, and over time, they add up.

Ben Meer of System Sunday recently shared a way to handle these minor annoyances well: The Frustration List.

It’s easy:

  1. First, create a note in your phone where you track all minor things that annoy you.

  2. Then, tackle them:

    1. If they take less than 2min to accomplish, right away.

    2. Otherwise, set aside 60 minutes per week (add a block to your calendar) and eliminate them then.

Wonderfully simple, highly effective.

Action Item Recap

  1. Tackle your inbox today. Peace of mind guaranteed.
  2. Try adding a quick walk right after waking. Might be a game changer.
  3. Create a frustration list. Then, tackle it and live a happier life.

That’s it for this edition of International Generalist. Thanks for tuning in and reading!

If you enjoyed this, please ask yourself: which one person that you know would most benefit from reading this newsletter? The number one way to support me is to share this with others aspiring to become more effective in their personal and professional lives.

Who’s behind International Generalist?

I’m Dominik, and every day, I try to figure out how to become a tiny bit more effective. Then, I share some of the lessons learned here.

When I’m not writing, I build the international business for Sdui - the Leading European SchoolOS -, play Lacrosse, lift weights and enjoy draft beers.

Here’s how else I can help you:

  • Book a 1:1 meeting to discuss the international expansion strategy of your startup - please email me
  • Read the newsletter archive for more actionable nuggets
  • Connect on LinkedIn or Twitter for daily doses of insights
  • Send me a question, so I can answer it in the newsletter or in a long-form blog post

See you in two weeks!

Much love



Dominik Nitsch

Proud generalist: Entrepreneur, Athlete, & Writer.

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