Getting On Top Of Email

99 Red Balloons
Credit: flickr / Keegan Jones

My inbox has been out of control for a long, long time. But – finally – I am down to 5 emails in my inbox! I’ve taken a series of steps over the last year or so that have helped me get to this point.

Just One Inbox.

I had a Fastmail account that I had had (and paid for!) since before GMail came out. I finally got around to importing everything I had kept there into my GMail inbox, and auto-forwarding everything. For important things, I changed my email address altogether. And – when prompted to put my credit card info in to pay for another year… I didn’t. It took me a few more months after that, still, to empty everything out of there, during which emails bounced – but so what? That is hardly the end of the world. Finally it was nothing more than a (free!) forwarded address.

Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe.

I mostly read and respond to email on my phone – archive from notifications on Android is really nice. But often unsubscribe is a pain on mobile, so I kept receiving endless amounts of emails from everywhere I had given my email address to. I don’t understand why staying a couple of nights in a hotel implies that I want to receive emails about the place forever. I had been taking a short-term approach to this, when I took the time to do anything at all, and just deleting them. I started unsubscribing from everything, and if I couldn’t (I’m looking at you academia and your calls for papers) I would mark as spam. I turned off email notifications for things like blog comments, and Google+, etc. This significantly reduced the number of emails I was receiving. Adding a couple of seconds per unwanted email would ultimately save me time.

Find And Delete.

The thing about unwanted emails, is they are rarely one-offs. One flight with an airline can start a life-long, one-way, monthly correspondence. I added another step to “unsubscribe” – which was search for that sender (or keyword), and label:inbox, and then select all and archive.

The Email Game.

Finally my inbox was at least not getting worse – from an all-time low of over 1000 undealt with emails, I was hovering around the 900 mark. Then I discovered The Email Game. Later that day, the unthinkable had happened. My inbox contained just 5 emails that I actually should (and plan to) do something with. Yes, I archived a lot of things that I should have responded to long ago, but I also found a friend’s blog from an email I had missed, and nearly $30 of Amazon credit.

In the “game” you work through a set number of emails, and you have to action each one – archive, reply, boomerang. You can skip them (but try not to!). A timer counts down, and at the end you get some points.

It’s gamification of email, but for me, it was less about the “game” than the UX – encouraging one-touch processing of email.

Stats as follows:

  • Saw 561 total emails and saved 304m 57s
  • Archived 543
  • Deleted 0
  • Sent 3
  • Boomeranged 1
  • Skipped 17

Anyway, my inbox is finally manageable! Now to keep it that way.

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