The first time I heard about “Inbox Zero,” I was sold. The idea of keeping a clean slate in my inbox was so intriguing that I was willing to read the entire article and figure out how to do it.
The concept of sorting and filing emails to keep a neat inbox worked for a while. Honestly, it still works, but I went through a period where it seemed like it was my #1 goal in life.
Does that sound ridiculous? It shouldn’t. Because email itself is addictive and Inbox Zero can actually make it worse. Not only are we addicted to the thrill of receiving new emails, but now we have the added thrill of keeping our inbox clean.
In the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, they talk about email addiction. It’s specifically about Gmail addiction, since many of the people they interview worked for Google, but the concepts apply to email in general.
We want to see if anyone has responded to our messages, or sent us new messages, or offered us new products, or written new articles that will blow our minds… the options are endless.
That’s why it’s addictive.
Our need to check notifications and emails, or simply to get rid of the notifications or emails so we don’t have that pesky number on the app, has got us addicted.
Most parts of email addiction stem from the best intentions, but they’re no longer healthy once it’s obsessive. We want to respond, we want to be in the know, we don’t want to miss out, but sometimes we need to.
I’ve came up with some ideas for all of us (myself included). These are things that make email a little less addictive. Things I’ve been doing for years and they work.
1. Check Your Email Less
I check my email once a day, in the morning. If I don’t have an email at that time, it’s going to be 24 hours before I can check again.
This has turned into a habit. It’s second nature. But I admit, when I first start this five years ago, it was hard to go from checking email every time I got a notification to checking it once a day.
If it’s not possible to check your email once a day, just set limits. Check it at certain intervals and not in between.
But as far as checking it every time you get a notification, let’s talk about that…
2. Turn Off Email Notifications
I get roughly 1,000 emails a day, between my two blog emails, my military email, and my personal email.
I’m never going back to checking my phone 1,000 times a day. Ok, I didn’t check every notification, but it sure felt like I did.
If you set intervals, you don’t need notifications on.
And as far as who and what you respond to when you do check it…
3. Don’t Feel Obligated to Respond
Somewhere along the line we’ve created an obligation to respond to every email.
Before the internet, we didn’t send a written letter to every piece of junk mail we received. So if someone is reaching out to us with an opportunity we’re not interested in, why do we feel the need to explain why we’re not interested?
You have no obligation to random people you don’t know. You may not respond to every email you get, but enough people do who need to see this.
It’s not rude to not respond. People don’t have a special privilege of getting a response just because they spent two minutes typing out an email. Plus, if you’re a blogger or online influencer, half of those offers are automatically sent out to hundreds of people anyway.
It’s worth taking the time to unsubscribe from emails.
I know it may seem easy to select those 100 emails you don’t care to read every day and delete them, but in the long run, you’re going to save a lot of time by simply unsubscribing.
You don’t even have to take the time to click unsubscribe on each email; there’s a tool that makes this super easy: Unroll.me. I’ve used it for years.
Not only can you unsubscribe from newsletters with the click of a button, but you’ll see everything you’re subscribed to rolled up into a single list. If you don’t really care to receive certain emails, but don’t want to fully unsubscribe, you can roll those up into one email.
5. Don’t Use Folders
Why do you sort emails into folders that you know you are never going to open?
You should just be deleting the unimportant emails, but for the emails you must keep, don’t organize them into 50 different folders, just use one.
If you like the appearance of a clean inbox, simply create a folder titled “Archives” to file every email you must keep.
When If you ever actually need to access one of those emails, utilize the search box.
Studies have shown you can retrieve emails faster by searching than by finding them in folders.1
6. Type Less and/or Type Faster
You can double your productivity if you learn to type twice as fast, but if that’s not practical or you don’t want to do that, just type less.
Limit your emails to a few sentences. There is no reason to type an essay when you’re answering one question.
At the bottom of all my emails, I include this sentence:
“My emails are kept brief to save your time and mine!”
It’s a simple and friendly way to let people know you’re not going to waste anyone’s time. It’s also intrigued people. I’ve got a lot of interest and compliments by having this phrase at the bottom of my emails.
If you want to learn how to type faster, you can always try touch typing.
Kick the Addiction
I think we can call see how addictiv email is, and it’s not just email, it’s notifications in general.
I’d suggest turning all notifications off, unless you need it for work, like messaging services.
We all know we’re on technology too much. Hopefully this article helps you be on it a little less. It’s an addiction we can break.
Further Book Reading
- See the basic results of the study at A Life of Productivity. This specific study has been taken down for some reason, but you can try it yourself and see it’s true.