Getting The Email Monkey Off My Back

8 years ago

351. That is the number of unread emails in my email inbox. 10,196 is the total number of messages. And that's just one inbox. I have others.

During the BlogHer conference and associated travel I did not have access to email. This despite bringing my laptop, my iPod Touch and my BlackBerry. The BlackBerry I bought specifically to be able to check my email on the road. Nothing worked for me and so I just had to let the messages pile up for days. And since I've returned I cannot seem to get below 351 unopened messages.

I am not alone in being crushed by the tyranny of email. Suzemuse admits she too has a problem:

I have a problem with email.

The problem I have is not email itself – it’s a marvellous tool, and when used well, it’s extremely effective, highly efficient, and wonderfully convenient.

The problem I have with email is that it’s been running me.

My sister!

My sisters:

@zrecsmom I soooo hear you. I don't think I'm ever going to catch up from #blogher09. Drowning in email. Drowning!


@zrecsmom @Feelslikehome Oh, tell me about it. I've never had an Inbox this ridonkulous


Nerd Merit Badges: Inbox Zero

I've got a million reasons why I cannot reach the mountaintop of inbox zero nirvana.

Perhaps I need to be more ruthless. I need to take some lessons from danah boyd and consider an email sabbatical:

For those who are unaware of my approach to vacation... I believe that email eradicates any benefits gained from taking a vacation by collecting mold and spitting it back out at you the moment you return. As such, I've trained my beloved INBOX to reject all email during vacation. I give it a little help in the form of a .procmail file that sends everything directly to /dev/null. The effect is very simple. You cannot put anything in my queue while I'm away (however lovingly you intend it) and I come home to a clean INBOX. Don't worry... if you forget, you'll get a nice note from my INBOX telling you to shove off, respect danah's deeply needed vacation time, and try again after January 19.

It's sick, twisted, and counter to the always-on culture that we live in. But gosh darnit, it feels mighty fine to come home fret-free.

Hmmm, I don't think I can quite get there yet. Perhaps I can do like Elisa Camahort Page and declare email bankruptcy:

As I've mentioned before, I've started a new policy that does nothing but make me feel falsely less burdened once per month.

On the first business day of every month I take everything left in my email Inbox, create a new folder for it, and move all those emails into it.

If it's in my Inbox that means I believe I should respond or take action on it...I'm a filer, not a piler, so the Inbox is my "Action" folder.

Sigh. I am more of a piler and I only put things in files if I am reasonably certain there is a possibility I will look at it again so I think this approach would only leave me feeling more burdened.

One thing I dream of doing is to take an approach suggested by Christine Kane and that is to not start the day checking email. Unfortunately though, starting the day with email is simply a habit that has too great a hold on me. Instead I've been taking baby steps towards scheduling periods of time for checking email. But even baby steps come in fits and starts though still I aspire. My habit of not only starting the day with email but with checking it constantly throughout the day creates what Christine calls "attention splatter."

And, really, that's my biggest problem. Where my attention wanders and flows. The insidious thing about email is that it tricks you into feeling like you are doing something. Even if it is just opening and skimming the email, not really engaging or taking action. Plus, especially when you work alone, you feel like you are connecting with someone. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, IM... they are all the same. We all salivate on cue like Pavlov's dogs the notification bell dings. It's seductive and addictive.

Ah well, it's my burden and my journey. And if I owe you an email, I'm sorry.

Have you kicked the email habit? If so, tell us how, please I beg of you!

Related Reading:

Suzemuse: Breaking the Email Habit

I’m taking some new steps with my email, starting this week. Although I don’t think I’ll ever be Tim Ferriss (who apparently checks his email only once a week or so), I think I can get to a point where I’m only checking a few times a day. There are a few things that need to happen in order for this to be successful.

August 12 is Information Overload Awareness Day

Individual tickets for the Inaugural Event are $50 but individuals promising not to multi-task (IM, e-mail, Twitter, etc.) during the event receive a 50% discount

Beth Kanter has ideas for Managing Information Overload and Building Your Blog Community

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