It’s time to rethink my approach to email

Email checking is an obsessive and distracting habit of mine, a constant and simultaneous yearning and dread for the next email to arrive in my inbox.

In my obsessive mindset, the next email could come from anywhere, and could be the key to unlocking or exposing me to the information, people, or opportunity that will inform my ongoing and future direction.

A brief summary of my current approach to email, mostly recounted below as a way to self-shame and hopefully course correct:

  • Emails that require multi-step actions or thoughtful responses are mostly left unresponded to. This often results in a loss of conversational momentum, especially with people I don’t know personally and who have been gracious enough to reply in the first place.
  • Emails are attended to and revisited in chronological order, with the most recent and not-yet archived/deleted emails reread and reviewed first. Older emails further down in my inbox are left unseen for long stretches, further compounding the build-up of my inbox and lengthening my response time on the aforementioned “tough” emails.
  • I often set about my day hoping to achieve, a once-in-a-lifetime inbox zero event, after which I will responsibly and sanely manage my email for the rest of time, without any further compulsion and without a similar buildup of emails in the future. For over 10 years, I have never achieved inbox zero.
  • Following a digital detox spurned by Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism (reviewed here), I made an active effort to unsubscribe from the vast majority of email newsletters and subscriptions, reducing my “email clutter” significant, and running the risk of missing out on potentially interesting information. However, I wasn’t able to divorce myself from email newsletters altogether, and still find myself overly beholden to links and text from the “essential” newsletters that I’ve deemed too important to miss out on.
  • I’m a complete sucker for email organization  / process improvements articles online, and consume them up ravenously. As a result, my inbox has no shortage of ‘GMail hacks,’ making extensive use of the Labs and Labels functions. No auto filters, however.

The Problem: I treat email like a job (which it mostly isn’t), and like something I’m beholden to, rather than a tool, and something to be used and exploited only as needed!

Given the fact that I currently find myself in a state of transition, with a looming experience that will only further inundate me with more emails and more to-do’s, I am hoping to make use of this strategically significant time to review and replace my bad habits around email.

Potential solutions, as brainstormed by me:

  • Remove the GMail app from my phone, preventing compulsive checking and rechecking (or make it harder to access)
  • Create a minimum number of ‘actions’ (e.g., responses, archives, deletions, etc.) per email session, with some implemented penalty if the minimum is not met?
  • Shorten email responses, and always include calls-to-action. Oftentimes, my emails can take the form of an open-ended conversation, and can get especially long in the absence of a direct next step or action. If there’s not an obvious call-to-action at the end of an email correspondence, create one, or send a kind, but short response and move on!
  • Move actively disconnect from email during weekends. Even reading weekend roundups and digests meant to be pleasurable, like the FT Weekend or NYTimes special sections, can feel like work if they’re left unread and unresponded to. If there’s an especially interesting article, it will likely organically make its way to me. Otherwise, use the app/site if desired, or even better, buy the papers themselves if time permits. Otherwise, forget it!



The challenge, and where to go from here: How to effectively implement these ideas, and ensure their ongoing adoption?

2 thoughts on “It’s time to rethink my approach to email

  1. I find myself using auto responses (not for personal correspondence but common business replies) and snooze functionality a lot. The biggest trap for me is emails that need to be digested and turned into specific todos. Those can end up staying in my inbox the longest. I know it’s because the bigger todos are really hard to actually prioritize and do so I try to wait for the email to “ripen” enough that I can do it more quickly-it is not an exact science and definitely something I want to improve myself.


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