Email Overload

by

Good morning dear readers! (Okay, so it’s early afternoon. It’s been a rough morning…)

I’ve noticed that having my own office, away from the cluttered randomness of my home, has done wonders for my writing. And it’s made me want to streamline other parts of my life to make myself even more productive.

I keep my workspace relatively neat. I file things away immediately. I always make sure to tidy my desk before I leave at night so I can come into an inviting scene.

But there is one part of my work-life that is absolutely out of control.

My email Inbox.

Like most of us, I have more than one email address. I have my “main” email address. I have a secondary account, through AOL, that I’ve had for ten years and fills up with spam so fast that I never get any real messages. I have an ancient Hotmail account and a Gmail account I use solely for communicating with a certain crew of online friends.

Now, I hope my dear readers have had their coffee. Because I am about to give you a headache.

But first, I am going to assume that we are all at our computers. I want you to take a look at your main email account. And take note of how many emails you have in your InBox. And then, note how many of them are unread and need to be dealt with in some way, at some point.

This is my Inbox for my main email account:

untitled

Now, I know you can’t see what’s going on. (Unless you click on the photo) So please, let me explain to you the INSANITY that is in my InBox.

1. First and foremost, I have 6,583 messages in my InBox.

Six thousand, five hundred and eighty three. That. is. ridiculous. And I am ashamed. There is no reason why anyone should have that many emails in an InBox! How can I even focus and concentrate and call myself an effective writer when I sit down at my immaculate desk each morning, boot up my computer and stare at this mess. Pathetic.

It’s so bad that I have to do a math equation to determine how many new emails I have.

Let’s see. Before I went to lunch, I had six thousand five hundred and eighty-one messages. Now it’s six thousand five hundred and eighty-three. Okay. Just two new emails.

How sad is that? Don’t answer. I already know.

2. I have 955 unread emails in my InBox. So in addition to the emails I’ve read and left stranded in my InBox purgatory, I have nearly one thousand more that I haven’t dealt with it. I’m drowning in emails. And I only deal with the first five I get. And then I get five more. And five more. And suddenly, I’m treading water and not doing it well.

Let’s see what the problem is here…

3. Facebook: If one of my FacebookFriends sneezes, I’m getting an update to my InBox. I don’t know why I set it up this way. I think I originally wantedprotection against being tagged in a photo and not knowing about it until it was too late for the untag-then-curse-out-friend process. But my settings are totally screwed up. If I make a comment on someone’s note. And they make a commment after me, I get an email. Good grief. Obviously, I never look at these emails. So they get added to my Unreads.

4. Daniel Scocco: We’ll get him to later. Cause he’s actually part of the solution.

5.  My Blog: Whenever my lovely dear readers make a comment on this blog, I get an email. I click through and usually respond immediately. I could just check the site periodically instead of having these alerts sent to my InBox. They also add to the Unreads…

6. My real job: This is an email from Jermaine Hall, my editor at KING magazine. If he sends me an email about a story I’m working on, that’s official. And that’s the kind of stuff that belongs here. Unfortunately, it often gets bogged down and lost between Facebook notifications and Blog comments.

7. This is an email from my bank. All my personal banking information comes here too. I think that makes sense. But maybe I should have a separate account for just bills.

8. Emails to myself: I have this very bad habit of coming up with ideas for stories and blog posts and sending them to myself in an email. Not effective. Since I can never find it when I need it.

9. Here’s an email from Ryan, my agent. Like Jermaine, I want to get his emails immediately. And they belong here. But, after I’ve responded, they need to be archived in some way. If we’re going back and forth on negotiations for a project, I want to be able to access each email we’ve exchanged. So I never move them.

10. This is where the answer is supposed to be, little folders to drag and drop emails when you’re done with them. But they never work for me. I end up making the categories either too broad, (FREELANCE) or too specific, (STORY ON MARIAH CAREY). The freelance folder becomes too big and loses effectiveness. The Mariah Carey folder becomes obsolete and just sits there taking up space. I still have a folder called Hip Hop Wives. That was a story I wrote for VIBE almost four years ago. Why is it still there? And what am I supposed to do with it?

Alas, what’s a girl to do.

Let’s go back to #4: Daniel Scocco. He’s an email expert and I reached out to him for help. Here’s a bit of info from his website:

He started developing blogs and websites in 2005. Daily Blog Tips is the place where he shares what he learned along the way. The blog was nominated under the “Best Web Development Blog” category on the 2007 Weblog Awards, and currently it is ranked among the 100 most popular blogs in the world (according to Technorati).

Daniel has also provided consulting in Internet Marketing for many companies and organizations (including the United States federal government), and he is the founder of the Internet Marketing and Business training program Online Profits.

When he is not involved with online projects, he likes to write in the third person about himself.

And here’s his picture, which I also took from his blog:

daniel3

Now this looks like a guy who would never let his email InBox get out of control. Right? Look at those arms folded. That blocks unwanted emails and Facebook Notifications. And I can just see him throwing out a forearm–get back!–to a new email that isn’t necessary or relevant.

I sent Daniel an email:

Aliya S. King wrote:
Hello there. I am a blogger, working on a post about managing email.

Right now, I have 6,483 emails in my InBox. And 854 are unread.

Insanity.

Can we do a brief phone/email or IM interview for my blog?

Daniel hit me back immediately. With a one word response:

Email

Well. I guess terse responses cuts down on email overload. I sent my questions to Daniel:

Me: Eventually, I abandon all my subfolders. And when I need to find an email, I just search through the whole Mail application. (I use Mac mail.) Please give me your best tips for archiving.
Daniel: If you use GMail, searching is all you are going to need.

Me: I am afraid of Deleting. I never ever EVER delete an email. How can I become better at deleting an email I won’t need again? Or maybe I can just store deletable emails in yet another subfolder? ugh.
Daniel: Why delete when disk space is a commodity? You never know when you might need something, so I would prefer to keep them all.

Me: How many email accounts do you have? How many un-archived emails do you have in each Inbox right now. And how many are unread?
Daniel: I have 5 email accounts. On my business email accounts I always zero them twice a day.

Me: You zero down your biz accounts twice a day!! Impressive? Can I ask how many emails you get in those accounts per day?
Daniel: From 50 to 100.

Did this dude say he gets his email accounts down to ZERO twice a day?

My eyes glossed over at the very idea of having an email box with ZERO emails. I made a vow that I would do the same. Immediately. So when I should have been writing a story, (sorry Jermaine), I instead decided to attack my InBox.

First things first, no more subfolders. I deleted them all in one fell swoop. I was prompted: Are you sure you want to do this? And I said hell yeah! Then I made a folder that was simply marked “2008”. Any email I got last year was dumped there. If I need it, I’ll search there. Wow! Half my inbox, gone! Then I set up a folder for January, 2009. Any email I get this month will be dumped there when I’m done. And each month I’ll create a new folder. End of the year, I’ll dump them in a folder called 2009.

It’s not so important to archive by subject. My email program has a very good search feature. So if I need to find it, I will.

I was on a roll. And loving it.

Then, I had to make some changes to my notifications from my blog and Facebook. I turned off my comments notifications and my Facebook notifications. I don’t need to know what you all are up to on Facebook or my blog every second of the day. When I want to check in, I’ll check in to the actual site. I made all the necessary changes and instantly–the email pings slowed down considerably.

I started breathing easier. More calm. More Zen.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, my dear readers. Behold:

clean-inbox

Clean, crisp. Plenty of white space. Folder to the left for each month and year. And nothing else. NOTHING. For the first time in five years, I HAVE ZERO EMAILS!

I feel like I can conquer the world.

Now, my AOL account still has 1,000 messages. And one of these days, I’ll get around to clearing that one out too. Or just deleting it all together. But for now, I’m satisfied.

My voicemails? A whole ‘nother story.

Dear readers: How do you manage your email? And do you ever feel like it’s taking over? I’d love to hear from you…

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15 Responses to “Email Overload”

  1. Heather Says:

    First!

    I feel kind of bad sending this because I know it will popped up in your newly gutted email and may cause you to relapse. Eh, here we go. I recently joined the rest of civilization and upgraded to a blkberry which had been great, but now that all my emails go to this handheld computer I rarely bother to check my email. Which results in emails being piled in my inbox. It’s funny b/c one of my friends has 200-something unread messages and blames her sidekick. I used to say that was a cop out, but now I get it. Oh and I must take off these darn automatic responses from facebook, twitter, and blogs — sorry Aliya, but yesterday’s thread that surprising went on til this morning, STUFFED my inbox. Geeezzz

  2. jay1 Says:

    What’s the over-under on how long it will take for your inbox to reach over 1,000 messages? because I want in on that.

    Also, i keep like 90 emails that I just can’t delete. I actually like to use my email as a file cabinet.

  3. Aliya S. King Says:

    @heather: i deleted the second half of my post. About how I (had) Facebook on my phone. As as well as alerts for my Main Inbox and my AOl account. Last night, I deleted both the Facebook app and the AOL account from my Blackberry. Purge! Purge! Purge! I still have a ton of emails from my main account on my Blackberry. I’m coming for them next.
    @jay1: I will not go back. I promise you that.

  4. Katura Says:

    I have like 3 jobs, and a several different accounts, but all my e-mails are copied to one mail account: hotmail. I have umpteen folders (even one for coupons) but never thought that an empty inbox was feasible. Now I’m inspired.

  5. Hanif Says:

    I too am an email pack-rat.

    hanifihavewaytomanyemails@hotmail.com
    Inbox (8453)
    Junk (273)
    Drafts ()
    Sent ()
    Deleted (2)
    Manage folders

    And I’m not even famous! I have every email from my contacts since my accounts inception. As long as hotmail is giving up the free space, and my bar is green keep em coming. I read the email from my contacts and keep it moving. Every now and again I do a sweep, but then it becomes burdensome and I just say to hell with it.

    Does this mean you’ll be responding to me soon?

  6. Joyce E. Davis Says:

    thank you thank you thank you thank you…I’ve got about 4,000 in my work email account and my personal used to be above 9,000 until I got a new computer and said I’ll NEVER go back there again…I just a have a gang in my inbox, now, but I’m going to take all of your’s and Daniel’s advice…preciate this one – for real!!! jd

  7. Aliya S. King Says:

    @hanif: you have eight thousand emails. that’s unreal.
    @joyce: 9,000!!! Who are you people?! And I thought I was bad! And Joyce, I distinctly remember you losing some emails and asking people to resend! So you must have had more than that at some point. Tsk tsk.

  8. la negrita Says:

    Whoa, you guys make me feel MUCH better about my e-mail situation. I feel like a failure when I have 100 unread (which is really more like 20, because the rest is usually junk)! I try not to be a pack rat so I do a sweep every so often. I always struggle with deleting certain things because I think, “I may need this one day…” but I go ahead and let it go and guess what? Some months down the line it becomes relevant again. :( This still doesn’t stop me from deleting. I just work around it.

    I categorize my e-mails too, but if I have too many labels/folders I get overwhelmed. This is true in real life as well. Some structure, but not too much. :-p

  9. lucky Says:

    wow you guys are horrible lol. I have four email accounts (gmail, work, blog, blackberry). they rarely hold more than 5-10 unread messages at a time. It drives me crazy if there’s more than that. I try to keep my Unread Messages at zero throughout the day and never let it pile up. In the past I had a problem reading emails, not responding and then forgetting about them but now if I know I won’t respond immediately, I leave it there for a bit or put in my “To Respond” Folder. Of course having a blackberry complicates things because sometimes you get the same email in a bunch of different places. but I manage… I’m really obsessive about keeping my inboxes clean :)

    -Clove

  10. Aliya S. King Says:

    @lucky: I’m with you now. For the past 24 hours I’ve been dragging and dropping like mad. My email is still at zero.

  11. Freelance Website Designer Says:

    I know the feeling, I get so much email every day and the worst thing is you get kind of addicted to checking it…

  12. FreelanceVenue Says:

    Yeah, our email is in the hundreds! (or thousands)… but many of them are spam. It’s annoying!

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