The Zen of Inbox Infinity
You’ve got more #$@% mail!
Those of you who have been online long enough may remember when getting email was an exciting event.
We all loved hearing that bossy little AOL voice telling us that we got mail. Our pulse would quicken and we would race to our email inbox to see what technological treasures awaited us. And even though most of us were still paying by the minute, we never wanted to log off our super speedy 56k dial-up modem connection because we didn’t want to risk missing out on our next email message.
Yes, perhaps we were young and a bit naive as we were opening up our forty-third email asking us to help our rich Nigerian friend transfer money to his bank account, but at the same time we were excited to be a part of this new technology. We were on the cutting edge and we scoffed at our old-fashioned friends who were still licking stamps and using old-fashioned “snail mail”.
Even today, most of us still respond to the email “ding” like some deranged Pavlovian dog hoping that this time we’ll receive some email that actually isn’t an advertisement for diet pills and male enhancement.
Introducing the Email Inbox from hell!
These days, however, it seems that everyone and their brother-in-law wants your email address. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a website, Taco Bell, or the local gas station — everyone wants you to sign up for their email mailing list (yes, even us).
So when did all this happen? When did everyone suddenly need your email address before they can ring up your hand towels at Bed, Bath, & Beyond — And why do they all give you that look as if you are some kind of Luddite Hobbit when you tell them that you’d rather not share it with them?
I say it’s time that we rise up and revolt against stupid email ads and useless 5% off coupons. I say enough of your pointless surveys, enough of your colorful coupons that cost $15 in ink for my printer to print out, and don’t even get me started on the dozens of #@$! loyalty cards that are currently jammed into my wallet.
It’s gotten so bad that I’ve actually set up additional email addresses just for this sort of thing, hoping to somehow separate some of this gratuitous marketing crap from all of the other useless email crap that I was already receiving — but this turned out to be pointless as well. In the end, it didn’t actually cut down on the number of messages I received, it just sorted them into various smaller containers that I still had to deal with. Even after all that, I would still find myself sorting them out, creating pointless folders, and deleting email messages for what sometimes seemed like hours on end.
So now what?
I’ve already talked about in an earlier article about how I’ve had to schedule a Twitter and Facebook-Free sabbatical from time to time just to maintain what little sanity I have left. So what about taking email free days on a regular basis? What if we could actually take a break from email and then come back to it later?
Egads, was this even possible?!?
I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy even talking about it at first.
Taming the Email Beast!
All of this actually evolved from one of the problems that I ran into early on with my Twitter and Facebook-free days experiment. It was the fact that even when I wasn’t actually visiting these sites, I was still checking my email on those days and whenever I received an email about someone mentioning us on Twitter or our Facebook page I felt compelled to respond to it. After all, what kind of thoughtless bastard doesn’t respond to being tagged on Facebook?!
So of course I would tell myself that I would just log on for a moment to respond or to follow back a new follower. The problem of course, is that once you open the time sucking Pandora box that is Twitter and Facebook, you are hooked.
This clearly wasn’t working so I figured if I was really going to do this, I had two options. I could either turn off the email notifications for all of these social networking sites, or I could simply not check my email at all during these “off” days. Well being the control freak perfectionist that I am, I knew that turning off the email notifications wasn’t really an option so I finally came to the sad conclusion that the only way this was actually going to work, was for me to turn off my internet connection all together when I was writing.
There is no such thing as an Emergency Email!
What I’ve discovered is that it actually is possible once you accept the fact that there is no such thing as an emergency email (at least not in my world) — Let’s face it, if there’s ever a real emergency, you better get me on the phone because I’m never going to find your desperate emailed plea for help buried between the Barnes & Noble newsletters and the countless Chipotle coupons that litter my inbox.
Now I realize that the thought of email free days are perhaps a little hardcore for some and to each their own but even on the days that I do check my email now, I do it completely different.
Quick quiz: What’s the first thing you do in the morning when you turn on your computer?
You check your email right?
Me to…. or at least I used to
What would happen is that I would open my email first thing in the morning, try to sort through all of the flotsam and jetsam floating around in my inbox, and look for things that really mattered. I would skim, and open, and delete, and skim, and open, and then delete some more
Before I knew it, it was often lunchtime and all I had accomplished so far that day was to tidy up my email inbox.
That’s when it dawned on me. It doesn’t have to be tidied up. I don’t have to meticulously go through each and every message and either put it into it’s little folder or delete it to keep those messages from piling up in hopes of someday getting down to that mythical “inbox zero”
I decided that my day of email liberation had come!
Since I’ve been experimenting with this over the last six months, I’ve discovered that I can now sort through my email inbox in less than 5 minutes a day because all I’m doing is scanning for those few messages that actually need a response. I’m not wasting any more of my life sorting, organizing, or even deleting the rest of them. They can just sit there with their glowing little “unread” icons until I’m ready to deal with them.
Now I have to warn you that this isn’t for the faint of heart. This is hardcore my friend. This is only a last resort for those of you who are sick and tired of spending countless hours of your day sorting through piles of spam and useless crap in order to get to the one or two messages that might mean something to you.
So for what it’s worth, here it is. . .
7 Steps to Freeing Yourself from the Email Inbox Beast:
1.) Create one place for email beast to live
Just like any other wild beast if you don’t properly cage it, you can expect it to eventually attack you
The first step is to get your email off your cell phone and only access it from your computer. Don’t worry, if there’s ever an actual emergency, your family and friends can text you, or believe it or not, make a phone call and speak with you directly.
2.) Stop giving out your email address to people you don’t care to hear from
This includes both Radio Shack, Olive Garden, and crazy Uncle Charlie who insists on forwarding every joke and piece of internet humor that crosses his desk. (Note: this does not include any websites that starts with “Skinny” and ends in “Artist”)
3.) Only open your email program once a day (preferably in the evening)
This is one of the few idea from those time management gurus called “time batching” that I actually find useful. Instead of starting your day off trying to sort through your daily pile of spam or pecking at it periodically throughout the day like some neurotic chicken, you simply check it once per day (usually in the evening or after lunch when you would usually be checking your Facebook page anyway).
4.) Quickly scan your messages and only open the ones that you need (or want) to respond to
Just scan, click, and respond. Do not go back to open or delete the rest of your messages because that will just suck up more of your precious time
5.) Let the unopened messages pile up and wear them like a badge of honor
You have to realize going into this that the unread emails will keep piling up in your inbox so brace yourself!
Looking at this actual screenshot of my email inbox at the moment you can see that I currently have 11,732 unopened emails.
Holy crap! Did he just say that he had 11,732 unread messages? . . . why yes, yes he did.
Now before you pass out or pass judgment on me for being a bad person, you have to realize that I have already sorted out and responded to the .005% of these messages that actually required my attention — the rest I allow to live peacefully on the Google servers completely unaware that their day of reckoning and mass extinction will soon come.
6.) Mass extinction day
Once every six months (or even once a year if you’re really hardcore) spend an evening killing useless email
This can be a joyful celebration (usually includes a drink or two) It turns out that sorting through spam and useless 5% off store coupons is great for resolving any built-up technological anger issues.
Go through each email box one by one, starting with the one with the most unread messages and then just start deleting. I’ll usually scan through them quickly just to see if I missed anything important (without opening them of course) and then it’s just delete, delete, delete — Bwahahahahaha!
This might also be a good time to unsubscribe to anything that has invaded your email inbox or outlived its welcome
7.) Rinse, Repeat, and Revel in your email independence (viva la revolution!)
Take a moment to bask in your rebel glory.
How do you keep your email inbox from taking over your life?
- How do you manage to keep up with all of your email?
- How many email addresses do you have?
- How many times a day do you check your email?
About the Author
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.