This is your life and it’s ending a minute at a time - Fight Club

This quote from Fight Club is an idea I take seriously. It may sound morbid, but it helps me to cull the trivial and shallow from my life, creating more time to focus on what I truly value. Lately, email has been an annoying time thief.

I am increasingly frustrated with the number of emails I have to process. The newsletters I never read, the feature updates for services I don’t use, new terms of service, feedback requests, payment confirmations etc. These messages are informational, unactionable, unnecessary. I don’t need or want to see them. So I’ve implemented some strategies to stem the flow.

Remove the source

If the source of an email is an account I don’t use or need, I delete the account. This has now become a game to see how few online accounts I can live with.

If the message is from, say, a recruiter that can’t take a hint, the message is filtered to the trash and they get hit with auto-response:

Thanks for your message,

I am not currently available for new opportunities. I would appreciate it if you could remove me from, or update my availability details in, the database from which you obtained my contact details.

Best regards, Tony

Stem the flow

If the message is from a source that can’t be removed (an account I can’t delete or person I can’t turn off), stem the flow. Unsubscribe from all notifications. Block the sender if necessary.

Filter, filter, filter

There are some notifications that can’t be switched off entirely, e.g. payment notifications, terms of service updates, delivery notifications, etc. For these I add the source address to a filter that marks them as read, archives them, and applies the label ‘Filtered’.

Gmail Filtered Filter

To ensure don’t miss anything important, I created a weekly calender event with a link to a Gmail search in the event’s description. The link below opens Gmail with messages in the ‘Filtered’ label that arrived within the last seven days.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/in%3Afiltered+newer_than%3A7d

Lessons

These strategies have certainly reduced the amount of manual processing I’m forced to do. Last week there were 20 messages auto-filtered, and those obviously don’t include emails from the accounts I’ve deleted. In turn, my compulsion to check email and to clear my inbox is greatly reduced, resulting in longer distraction-free periods. However I have a feeling this is a stopgap, and doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Something tells me eliminating email is closer to the answer. Cal Newport suggests as much here and here, and personally I can vouch that the lack of email in the workplace not being a problem: I’ve been consulting at a bank for two months and I still don’t have a company email address. This suits me fine… one less input taking valuable minutes from my life, allowing more time for valuable work.