Post #3290: My personal inbox situation

Since the beginning of the new year I’ve been in a decluttering and re-organizing mode: inbox, closets, studio, finances. It wasn’t a resolution since I didn’t make any this year, but it’s clearly where my focus has attenuated in these last few weeks. Perhaps it is connected to my “Making Do” theme for 2023, as that requires a bit of taking stock to find out what I am making do with – or perhaps it’s just reflective of the breathing space I’m feeling since stepping back from union responsibilities. Either way, it feels good to follow my attention to some long-neglected corners.

One area which has produced a tremendous result in a very brief period of time has been getting down to it with my personal email. Over the years I have subscribed, or been subscribed to, a shocking number of lists, newsletters, and systems/app notifications – to the tune of several hundred emails per week (if not thousands). When Google introduced it’s new inboxing system a few years ago, which included tabs for “updates” “promotions” “social” and “forums” – I figured this would help me deal with the email onslaught and I dutifully sorted inbox messages that came in, hiding away messages beneath their appropriate tabs.

Turns out, that only made my email-hoarding problem worse as I read next-to-nothing under those tabs and periodically found myself deleting thousands of emails in a go, invariably ridding myself of something important like concert tickets or receipts along with all the “clutter”. Plus, the Promotions and Social tabs deploy Google Ads, which can never be removed and lend to my email the overwhelm.

This problem with unread messages lead to other issues, like being billed for services I no longer wanted to subscribe to, but missing the notifications because they went into the updates or promotions tabs. There was also the fact that I wanted subscriptions to some things but didn’t see them because they were buried in the never-ending stream of irrelevant messages.

The problem was so bad, I had stopped recognizing it as a problem and just accepted it as the way that email works for me. It’s funny what we grow to tolerate just because that’s the way it is.

But near the end of 2022, I got to Zero Inbox on my work emails – which took a few days of sorting, deleting, and responding to things – and I recognized how much lighter I felt at the end of each day with only a couple of emails left to address. Looking for more lightness in my life, I figured I should apply the same to my personal inbox situation. I’m fine with my inbox as storage for conversations and connections, but I didn’t need to also keep thousands of ads and social notifications.

Since that realization, I’ve been unsubscribing from things like it’s my full-time job. I started by running through the first hundred or so emails under each tab and unsubscribing from everything I no longer wanted. Then, I deleted everything in my promotions, updates, and social tabs and got rid of the promotions and social tabs altogether, so things can’t hide there anymore. And now that I’ve got a handle on it, I evaluate each thing that comes in and decide whether I want to continue my subscription or not. The first few days of this were rough, but now I’m three weeks in, and there are only a handful of emails per day.

I’ve directed the subscriptions I want to keep to the Forums tab, which I review every morning and actually read now that I’m not overwhelmed all the time. The Updates tab is for receipts and reminders, which I delete when I don’t need them any longer. My main inbox is personal email.

There is no question this feels waaaay better than the “hide it under the bed” approach to my inbox I’ve relied on for years. I am not stressed when I open my email for one thing, but I’m also allowing time in the morning to scan the actual news bulletins from the NYT and Globe and Mail (subscriptions I pay for) so I feel more informed and in touch as I start my day. I’ve also realized that although there are many worthy Substack newsletters in the world, there are only a handful I am excited to get in my inbox. I can scan the rest from the Substack app once a week without all the clutter.

The inbox cleanse is also helping me identify automatic payments I no longer want to be subscribed to, and how susceptible I am to email advertisements from my favourite craft suppliers. As much as it pained me to unsubscribe from the Maiwa mailing list (not to mention all my fabric stores!), my bank balance is sure to be healthier without first-thing-in-the-morning impulse purchases prompted by email. Just last week I created a spreadsheet to track where my money goes on a monthly basis – an action completely related to the email taking-stock I have been doing.

Now that I’ve swept out the dirt from under the bed, is it possible to keep my room clean beyond the first month of the year? Only time will tell! I’ve never undertaken an inbox cleanse with this much rigor – but as we all know, old habits are hard to break. I think I’ll have to give this You’re Wrong About episode with Anne Helen Peterson on “How Email Took Over the World” a listen every six months to remind me how damaging the continued drain on attention can be – and I’ve set a recurring task in my calendar to take stock of my email situation every three months to see how things stand. Given the net-positive so far, I’d like to keep my inbox situation under control from here on out.

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