I am not declaring email bankruptcy. It hasn't gotten that bad.
But I've come to loathe my inbox and consequently to dread opening it. And that means I've been missing emails I very much want to get. Something has got to change.
My inbox has become the bane of my existence as the result of three undeniable truths: 1) I love having great exchanges with people I enjoy having great exchanges with, I love working with people on projects I'm excited about, and I love being asked to do exciting things; 2) other modes of electronic communication are sometimes more efficient than email and are sometimes more likely to be used by people I already have a relationship with; 3) I get a lot of random emails from perfect strangers who send me screens and screens of text that may or may not be related to anything I'm even remotely interested in.
As of today, I'm imposing a framework around my email behaviour so as to remove any guilt I feel about constantly avoiding my inbox. It's going to go something like this:
New Email Framework
- I treat email as a tool that allows me to do business, maintain relationships and have fun.
- If I receive an email that serves none of these purposes, I reserve to right to delete it without comment.
- I do not believe that email is a contract, in itself. Receiving email does not obligate me to do anything, period.
- Unless an email is related to an existing obligation, I reserve the right to delete it without comment.
- Generally speaking, I enjoy both receiving and sending email. Email that makes me not enjoy email is therefore a true annoyance, and I reserve the right to delete it without comment.
- I am a human being, with a name. If I receive unsolicited email from someone who does not greet me by name, I reserve the right to delete it without comment.
- I do not think robots are people and I resent people who make robots behave like jerks. If I receive unsolicited email from a mailing list I did not join, I will report that list as spam before I delete it without further comment.
- Monday morning is now the only time I plan to spend any appreciable energy in my inbox.
- However, I reserve the right to address any email I want to address, at any time, even not on Monday mornings. (Read: Especially if it's time-sensitive in a way that is shared by both the sender and me.)
- I will routinely delete emails in my inbox that arrived longer than three months ago. Seriously, if I haven't dealt with it yet, I won't.
- I will now, and routinely, encourage anyone I know who knows my phone number to text me instead of emailing. Or to tweet at me. Texting and tweeting allow for asynchronous communication just like email does, but much briefer. Brevity allows for quick back-and-forth. And most – not all but most – communication only requires a little bit of quick back-and-forth.
- Facebook never ever counts as an email substitute. Facebook messages are annoying as hell and I reserve the right to ignore them until my guilty conscience makes me open them, and then I reserve the right to continue ignoring them even after I've read them.
- I reserve the right to be ruthless in my inbox. Or ridiculous.
- I reserve the right to break or amend any of these rules at any time. (Except the Facebook rule, unless Facebook radically changes how it handles messaging.)
Some Potentially Useful Notes for Those Interested in Emailing Me
- Chances are the above framework doesn't really apply to you. I like you and value hearing from you. You may find it helpful to know that my new Monday-morning thing means you might not hear back from me right away, unless I have some extra email time or your query is time-sensitive. Please don't hesitate to email me.
- If I enjoy reading your email newsletter, it stays in my inbox until I read it or until it becomes completely out of date. (Read: Your newsletter is not a part of my email problem.) (Further: I'm picky and ruthless in my inbox, so I may not receive your email newsletter at all. Don't take it personally.)
- If you'd like to send me a press release, I will, as promised above, delete it without reading it if you don't address the email to me using my name.
- I implore you not to call me “Ms. Werker.” Ever. Nobody should ever call me that, ever. “Kim” will do just fine, even if we've never met, and even if you're asking for a favour. I do not value formality, which means that formality gets you nowhere with me. And, in fact, if you're asking for a favour, calling me by my first name is the first indication I'll have that you acknowledge I'm a human being just like you, and that you're about to ask me for something.
- Usually, when a stranger asks me for something and they call me “Kim” and their email is not-too-many-words in length, I get very excited and reply in a timely manner, eager to help.
If you, too, have been battling with your inbox, I recommend using Unroll.me to manage email newsletter subscriptions and marketing emails.
UPDATE: I'm trying out a service called Sanebox, that analyzes how you treat your email and filters it according to an evolving algorithm. It's a free two-week trial, and I'm confident I'll end up paying for it.