A week ago, I came home after a long night of drinking and wanted to vomit. It wasn’t the whiskey. It was the email.
I had been gone approximately 6 hours at an event and subsequent after-party. I didn’t check my email the entire time. When I came home, I had over 50 new emails in my inbox (this doesn’t include the ones I automatically archive thanks to Gmail filters). 50-some emails all of which I needed to take action on in some form or another.
Undoubtedly aided by the aforementioned drinks, I hit “Select All” and debated hitting “Delete”. Not just for those 50-some emails. But for all 50,000+ that were sitting un-archived in my inbox. Then I thought better of it. Instead, I hit “Archive”.
Best thing I’ve ever done.
A week into my “Archive All” world, my inbox is pretty fantastic. Obviously, I’m not the first person to do this, but I was highly skeptical that it would work since I figured that after the initial purge, messages would just start piling up again.
But at least for me, it’s more of a mental thing. It’s essentially out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I should have known this would be the case since I’m also obsessed with clearing my RSS reader every night (even though I barely use it anymore) and am a slave to clearing red Push Notification dots on the iPhone/iPad. But I was still terrified to mess with the email flow I had built up over the years.
Previously, I had tried to quit email for an entire month. That was also great. But the problem was that when I got back on the wagon, nothing had actually changed. I had missed a month’s worth of email, and people got ahold of me other ways, but once I was back on email, I was right back into my old habits.
But archiving all my mail forced me to change habits. I was sure there would be something I would miss or forget. But the reality is that there was no way I was ever going to get to all 5,000 things I had starred anyway. I was kidding myself. And I was creating a sense of dread for myself on a daily basis when I looked at my inbox and saw all those goddamn stars.
By archiving all the old mail, I have essentially turned Gmail into a big, searchable repository for email. I upgraded my account to 80 GB of storage (I was at the 30 GB limit). If there’s something I need to reference or remember, I can pull it up easily with a search. But the flow is now to archive everything at least once a week (and ideally sooner). It’s all about admitting to myself that if I don’t get to it by then, I’m never going to get to it.
Again, I was highly skeptical, but at least for now, this works. Yes, this means I’m not responding to a lot of emails that come my way. But I wasn’t anyway. Information still has a funny way of finding a way to command your attention if you need to take action.
For many, email is now the master communication channel. But it’s actually a pretty poor one in this age of mobile computing. Email needs to beaten down into just another channel of flowing information.
Read most of it. Respond to some of it. Keep all of it. But hide it. Then forget about it. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.