Email clutter

When people—and I mean friends and family—don’t respond to my email messages, I feel frustrated and rejected. Then I remember times when messages became buried in my inbox or replies composed in my head were never actually sent, and I set down my self-pity stones lest I break my own glass house.

My problem is too much email coming to my personal account. It accumulates and becomes overwhelming just as easily as non-digital stuff, and I’m finally ready to do something about it.

  1. Unsubscribe.
    What a revelation: once I started taking 5-15 seconds to unsubscribe from lists and change my email preferences for apps—rather than simply deleting unwanted emails—I realized how much garbazhe I was receiving every day. I felt a panicky twinge when I turned off LinkedIn notifications and unsubscribed from business news and professional development groups, but I’ve been deleting 97% of those emails anyway so I’m only really losing clutter.
  2. Skip the filters and separate email accounts.
    When I researched how to reduce email clutter, I saw recommendations for establishing separate email accounts (like using one exclusively for online purchases) and for using filters that send messages directly into a folder to be viewed later. This sounds to me like the equivalent of putting stuff in plastic totes in the basement—it moves the problem more or less out of sight but does nothing to eliminate it.
  3. OHIO.
    = only handle it once
    I made a half-hearted attempt to only check email at home when I was in a position to OHIO, and I now accept that I may only achieve OHIO when there are just two required actions: “read” and “delete.” I am, however, making an effort to put messages that may require future action into a relevant folder rather than leaving them in my inbox where I inevitably open them over and over again to see why they’re still in my inbox.
  4. Use the same critical eye you do with non-digital stuff.
    I’ve made deliberate choices about the kind and amount of information I want—taking into account all the other things I want from life—and right now there isn’t any room for Twitter or Instagram or RSS feeds. When I feel like a dinosaur for not using Twitter, I think about why I made that choice.
  5. Be the kind of sender you want others to be.
  • use the subject line to help the recipient sort and prioritize
  • be brief unless it’s your intention to send a letter
  • accommodate others’ preferences for texts, private messages, or phone calls (I won’t tell you how many unanswered emails it took for me to accept that my husband—who says he can’t keep up with all his email—prefers text messages)

Have other suggestions for handling email clutter? Please share them here!



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