My inbox has been out of control for a long, long time. But — finally — I am down to five 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.
Image remixed from xoque (flickr)
This post originally appeared on Accidentally in Code.
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+. 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.
Getting On Top of Email [Accidentally in Code]
Cate escaped from graduate school to be a Software Engineer at Google. She used to be an international hobo, teaching programming in the US and in Shanghai, training in martial arts in China, qualifying as a ski instructor in Canada, and aimlessly wandering around Europe. She currently lives in Sydney. So far this year she has visited five new countries, including North Korea... where tourists are never allowed to wonder alone. You can find her on Twitter@catehstn and on her blog, Accidentally in Code.