Inbox Zero is a noble, if difficult, goal. If you only receive a few emails a day, traditional strategies like only replying a couple of times a day are fine. But if you get dozens or hundreds, you need a harsher strategy: just ignoring some of them.
Picture: Captain Eric Willis/Flickr
As writer Oliver Burkeman points out, information overload gets the hardest with email, since email doesn’t really have a defined social purpose. While a stranger pitching you something on Facebook might seem rude or unwelcome, email is viewed as relatively public. Put another way, retail stores and political parties aren’t likely to spam your Facebook account a dozen times a day, but for email, it’s open season. If you start to get overwhelmed, instead of setting aside a time to reply to every email, simply ignore some of the ones that don’t matter.
I cling to the notion that email’s different: that’s it’s governed, rightly, by a default assumption that every message sent to me, or by me, deserves a reply. In practice, of course, there are countless emails I don’t reply to: thousands of spam messages I never even see; hundreds of impersonal advertisements and PR email-blasts I ignore; plus, I confess, a handful of personal messages that just seem too arduous to engage with.
Of course, reading part of each email is ideal. If it’s coming from someone you know personally or professionally, at least one reply to set expectations is an expected courtesy. But, beyond that, don’t feel guilty for not replying to a dozen random pitches from unknown companies, or carefully categorising retail newsletters that you’re never going to deal with. Treat your email like a to-do list and recognise which tasks just aren’t worth doing.