Unfortunately, I don't have a nice, neat, style-based answer. The truth is, I've never found a good way to manage the deluge. Last year, when I brought my Macbook to the Apple store to resolve an email issue, the tech was visibly surprised by the number of emails I had accumulated -- and he laughed out loud at my clearly I need to see it desktop, which was, admittedly, in need of some tidying up.
But that's another story.
Here's what I know:
- I'm overwhelmed. I have multiple email accounts, each of which serves its own purpose.
- I'm outnumbered. I could spend an entire day digging through this stuff, and still not make permanent progress, because, for every email I delete, three more (at least) find their way in.
- The junk outweighs the meaningful, personal stuff. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the ratio is about 10:1.
- Checking email on multiple devices compounds the problem. Instead of increasing efficiency, it perpetuates a "read now/tackle later" cycle that leads to my spending more time on email -- the electronic version of "drop and run," if you will.
At first, I decided to tackle the virtual clutter problem the same way I'd tackle a real-world, material clutter problem. Sort. Divest. Put away.
Steps #1 and #2 worked just fine. I clustered emails by source and deleted entire blocks of unwanted and/or outdated correspondence.
I ran into trouble at Step #3. Where does an I need to see it person "put away" the emails she wants to keep? Printing them out is quintessential I need to see it, but that creates an entirely new pile of things to be dealt with, which is counterproductive, so I end up leaving them in the inbox, where I can see them.
Here's what I've figured out:
- I need more information. I need to know what else my email program can do. Whether I learn this from a book, a tech-savvy friend or a workshop of some sort, I need to find a container besides the inbox in which I can "file" my emails. And then I need to come to terms with making this invisible place my designated home for certain kinds of email. This will be a challenge.
- I need more self-control. Checking my email at every opportunity just because I can is counterproductive. I've decided that, given the quantity of information flooding into my inbox, I need to check my email in several five-to-ten minute bursts throughout the day, deleting the junk and either dealing with the rest, or setting a time to do so, which means...
- I need to apply a scheduling strategy. There is just too much of this stuff for me to manage as it comes in. In addition to my five-to-ten minute bursts, I need to set aside a time block of at least an hour during a non-productive time of day to tackle the to-dos that arise from my inbox. At that time, I need to either watch the videos, reply to the requests and take care of the to-dos, or I need to schedule a time for any specific task that remains. That last part will be a challenge.
- I need to read the fine print. I've already unsubscribed from a number of lists. Now it's time to see if I can decrease the frequency of emails from the people whose lists I've chosen to remain on. If not, I may need to reconsider their importance.
- I need to reconsider my need for multiple accounts. One account is almost entirely junk mail. But, because I like the email address and the occasional gold nugget creeps in from time to time, I've hung on to the account. It's time to monitor this account and determine its value.
I'm always happiest when I have a plan, so I'm excited to see where this one takes me. Meanwhile, if you have great ideas for email management, please share them in the comments.
It's clear I have a thing or two to learn on the subject.