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.
Fred Wilson took some time this morning to go off against email. Clearly annoyed, he writes:
I write these posts occasionally to let people know. The result is hundreds of comments about how I can make email work better for me. Please don’t leave those comments. I don’t want to make email work better for me. I don’t want to hire an assistant to do email for me. I don’t want to try some new magical app that will make email better for me.
I complain often about email as well and everyone comes out of the woodwork with some idea for how to fix my problem. The reality is that there is no fix. Trying something else is an even bigger waste of time.
Wilson says he devotes about three hours a day to email and he still can’t nearly get through it all. I’m in roughly the same boat; some days more, some days less. It’s also a boat I put myself in when I left my job as a writer (tons of email) to become a VC (shit tons of email).
The only real “solution” is to change the way people think about email. It needs to be considered more of a stream than an inbox. That is, it needs to be more like Twitter and less like a to-do list.
Ever since I bought the original iPhone in 2007, there’s been one app above all others that I’ve been sorely missing: Gmail. Of course, back then, there were no native third-party apps. But a year later, when those came, Gmail was still nowhere to be found.
At first, the talk was that Apple wasn’t going to allow another mail app on their device. Then it was that Google was simply focusing on the mobile web (they’ve had a pretty good mobile web version of Gmail for a while). Then it was the strained (to put it mildly) relationship between Google and Apple. Still, other Google iPhone apps came. But never a Gmail one.