Making Email Right-Sized

I have come to think of my eyes and my attention as one of my most important assets, so I try not to let things come into my sight that will steal my focus. I am literally like a magpie with shiny objects (which is a great simile, but apparently isn’t actually true), and will get distracted by the slightest thing, so I need to do a good job of protecting myself from things that will entice me away from the things I should be focusing on. (Did my sidebar on the maligned magpies distract you?)

One way I do this is to audit my inbox every now and then. As a Head of School, my email address gets added to all sorts of company mailing lists without my permission, and it drives me crazy. I do want to hear from some organizations, such as our accrediting authority, and some services that we actually use, but I do not want to hear from every school supply company, software outfit, or professional development pedlar that is trying to get a line on next year’s budget.

In the past, I thought I just had to put up with this. We use Google at my school, so my work email account has a “promotions” section, and I just relegated emails like that to that section. I figured it was a waste of time to unsubscribe because no one honours the unsubscribe button anyway. In fact, that used to be true, but is no longer true. It used to be that if you clicked “unsubscribe” or contacted a company and asked to be removed from their list, you were just confirming that your address was live and that you were checking it, which would just make them send you more emails. These day, however, reputable companies know that they can’t act that way, and anyway almost all of them are using commercial mailing list software (like MailChimp) that handles the unsubscription process for them, so they do honour the unsubscribe. So now, unless I am actually using a service, I will just click on “unsubscribe” if I get an unsolicited sales email from a company. If they don’t unsubscribe me, I will send their next email to my spam folder.

Emails from companies or services that I do use get filtered and labeled. They stay in my inbox rather than going directly away so I can glance at them if I want to, but I can also archive them instantly without worrying about finding them later. I can also archive them in bulk at certain times of the year to clear out my inbox.

And speaking of clearing out my inbox, I give myself and email amnesty once a year. On August 1, I go through the last month of emails that I have received, mark any that I still need to pay attention to, and archive or delete everything else. I have been thinking about doing this twice a year, perhaps on January 1 and August 1. It feels nice to get my inbox to a manageable state at least temporarily. I have also considered doing it monthly, but that seems like too much work.

I feel that email is a constant threat to my attention, so I would love to hear your ideas for keeping it right-sized in my life!