Last month I ran across a great blog post by Jed Casey (@WaxTrax) about letting go of the digital hoard that he had slowly been collecting over the years. It’s not easy to declare bankruptcy because you’ve hit your limit of things that you can learn and process. Jed’s focus in the article is that whatever he was going to try and come up with was probably out of date or past its prime. But it got me to thinking about a little project that I’ve been working on over the past few months.
One of the easy ways to stay on top of things in the industry is to sign up for updates. A digest email here and a notification there about new posts or conversations is a great way to stay in-the-know about information or the latest, greatest thing. But before you know it you’re going to find yourself swamped with incoming emails and notifications.
I’ve noticed it quite a bit in my inbox this year. What was once a message that I would read to catch up became a message I would scan for content. That then became a message that I skipped past after I read the subject line and eventually settled into something I deleted after seeing the sender. It’s not that the information contained within wasn’t important in some way. Instead, my processing capability for the email or the message was settled into a mode where it took a lot to break me out of the pattern. Before I knew it, I was deleting dozens of messages a day simply because they were updates and digests that I didn’t have the time or mental capacity to process.
That’s when I realized that I had a problem. I needed to reduce the amount of email I was getting. But this wasn’t an issue like normal spam. Unsolicited Bulk Email is a huge issue for the Internet but the systems we have in place now do a good job of stopping it before it lands in my inbox. Instead, my bigger issue was with the tide of email that I had specifically chosen to sign up for. The newsletters and release updates and breaking news that was flooding my email client and competing for my attention on an hourly basis. It was too much.
So what did I do?
- The first thing I did was stop. I stopped signing up for every newsletter and notification that interested me. Instead, I added them all to a list and let them sit for a week. If they still appealed to me after that week than I would sign up for them. Otherwise, then went into the garbage pile before I ever had a chance to start getting inundated by them.
- The next thing was to unsubscribe from every email that I got that was deleted without reading. Sure, I could just keep deleting them. But that process still took my attention away from what I needed to be working on. Instead, i wanted to stop that at the source. Keeping it from being sent in the first place might only save two seconds from it being deleted out of my inbox, but those two seconds per email can really add up.
- Summaries are your friend. For every email I did actually read, I looked to see if there was a summary or digest option instead of constant updates. Did I really need to know instantly when someone had posted or replied? Nope. But figuring it out on a more set schedule, such as every other day or once a week, was a big improvement in the way that I could process information. I could dedicate time to reading a longer digest instead of scanning an notification that quickly blurred into the background.
- I turned off instant updates on my mail client for a time. I didn’t need to jump every time something came in. Instead, I set my client to update every 15 minutes. I knew there would be some kind of lag in my replies in a lot of cases, but it honestly wasn’t that different from before. What changed here is that I could deal with the bulk amount of email all at once instead of trying to process them one at a time as they arrived. And, ironically enough, the amount of time it took to deal with email went down significantly as I reduced the amount of email coming in. Instead, I was able to set my mail client back to instant updates and keep a better pace of getting to the important emails as they came in.
Once I went through this process I was able to reduce the amount of email that I was getting blasted with. And being able to keep my head above water helped me process the stuff that did end up coming in later that I needed to stop. The mailing lists that you get subscribed to out of nowhere. The vendor press release schedules that I needed to categorize and process. Having the ability to catch my breath helped immensely. Once I realized that I was the cause for my spam issues I was able to make headway.
Don’t do what I did. Don’t let yourself get to the point where I was. Your inbox isn’t a garbage pile for every random email or update. Don’t sign up for stuff you aren’t planning on reading. Audit your newsletters frequently to see how much you’re reading them. If you find yourself deleting stuff without ever opening it then you know you’ve reached a point where you need to stop and reassess what you’re trying to accomplish. If you aren’t even bothering to open things then you aren’t really staying on top of the game. Instead, focus your attention on making sure you have the attention span left to look at things. And stop inflicting spam on yourself.