Buck up. You’re not a slave to your inbox
I have over 200 unread emails taunting me. I think about sorting through them, but at the rate I receive email, I’d never finish. It makes me feel tied to my inbox. How can I stay on top of it?—Jeff
I only remembered that I had received your email, which theme-appropriately arrived sometime in the second quarter of 2012, after I saw some link on Twitter about “getting to Inbox Zero” (that’s what efficiency blogger Merlin Mann first called it), which led me to hissy-tweet something like “OKAY, OKAY, BUT HOW?
Everyone with a trigger-finger on ‘Send,’ or with especially wordy colleagues (ahem), or who finds much of their personal or emotional life stacked in an inbox needs, I think, more help than just being told, “Delete!”
Okay, okay, but how?
Susan Gregory, a Toronto-based efficiency expert, says, “Emails are perhaps too easy to write and send…. Having a consistent method of dealing with them will stop you from getting overwhelmed.” Before deciding on what that method actually is, consider the context and import of your email-life, for both your personal and work accounts.
Personal email might be more difficult to deal with. Probably the best move is to turn off instant notifications, and designate a certain time of day to manage your inbox (and scan your inbox during the day only if you really do need to see anything urgent). It is the impulse of the indoor animal to twitch at the sight or sound of a brand-new, distracting, maybe-fun email, but, it doesn’t mean you should open it right away. It also doesn’t mean you should not open it for a week. Spend a finite, pre-determined amount of time with personal emails; soon enough your friends will know not to expect your “!!!LOLZ!!!” correspondence within the minute, if at all.
At work, if you can, “mute” or turn off email notifications for an hour at a time while you do actual work-work. Quick, direct emails to colleagues are smart, but can be interpreted as mean or cold—Gregory recommends “sending shorter or fewer emails, and others will tend to respond in the same way. If you send long emails, people often respond point-for-point.” Or, they won’t read it all the way to the end and something important will get lost. Just be super-nice in real life so nobody at the office thinks you’re a jag.
Gregory says to unsubscribe from anything that you’re not reading, to keep your to-do list separate from your inbox, and to move an email’s information to the right place, like your calendar. She says to delete or move emails—to your archive, or a folder system—once you’ve dealt with them, and to “Learn the shortcuts and functions that will save you time.” She likes the work of David Allen, who wrote Getting Things Done, and the Zen Habits blog, but says to “decide how you prioritize, respond, action, file, and delete messages” for yourself.
This all assumes you must email as much as you do: email is actually super-inefficient. Wikis are better for collaboration; direct messages and chat are better for friends; talking is better for everything. Personal email, especially, is largely optional and habitual. Sometimes, when I’m extra-busy, I’ll turn on the out-of-office function, explaining that while I’m not email-available, I am text- or phone-available. Totally reorganizing your inbox and your commitment to it is a socially dangerous ass-pain, but what is actually important will get through.
I’m 33, and to this day I’ve never had casual sex. I still believe in going on several dates before romping in bed, because I value sex as something. Am I over-valuing it? Is sex like playing tennis these days?—Jen
Sex is like tennis insofar as it involves small, wildly expensive clothes made from mysterious fabrics in improbable colours. (Because I like playing tennis I won’t go any further with a “Sex is like…” analogy.) If you value sex as “something” that requires a bare minimum of several dates, then that is how you value sex. What other people’s values around sex might be aren’t relevant. And, yes, I get a zillion emails (see above) about other people’s dates and relationships, and they are often way-casual about it. Maybe your sexual values are changing, but if they’re not and you just feel left out, as an adult person you should already know that acting in accordance to your values even when that makes you sad (or leaves you at home alone with a Pocket Rocket) is the right thing to do.
Have a question for Kate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.