Choose less email

If social media is starting to feel exhausting, then email can feel downright draining.

In my opinion, email is harder to reduce in our lives than social media.

Email is a great way to communicate. Fast, free, and available on almost every device.

But because it’s so easy and light, we can receive a lot more messages in a day than we could ever possibly process. And, we rely on it for work and for our personal lives.

At a previous job, I was getting at least 100 emails a day. A lot of people get way more than that. And that’s not counting the amount of personal email we each get.

Each email that comes in your inbox a set of choices to make. Do I read this? Do I click a link in it? Do I read all the way to the bottom? Do I reply?

Having to make those choices 100+ times a day made email feel like a deluge.

When I looked critically at the emails I was getting, though, I made a very scientific calculation that 90% of them didn’t matter. If I could make 90% fewer decisions in a day, wouldn’t that make everything a little bit easier?

I found that choosing less email made me more productive and allowed me to better respond and triage the important stuff.

To reduce my email volume, I applied the same process I’ve recommended for everything else: figure out what’s actually important, keep that stuff, and remove the rest.

The fastest and easiest way to make my inbox less stressful was to unsubscribe from the obviously-unimportant stuff. Things like most newsletters, brand emails, deals emails, etc. If you don’t take any other advice from this email, just unsubscribe from the unimportant stuff.

Like my recommendation for unfollowing people on social media, unsubscribing from emails will take some time, but I found that within a few days, I had unsubscribed from most email lists I was on.

If you want to take my own advice and unsubscribe from this email, that’s ok. If it’s not interesting to you anymore, I want you choose less and have one fewer email cluttering your inbox.

Another way I better dealt with email was to limit email notifications on my phone and desktop. I found that I usually didn’t need to immediately see every single email that came in — if something was really urgent, the person would get in touch with me in a more direct way. So, by reducing notifications only to “VIPs,” which many email apps can do, I reduced how often I got email notifications and let me better focus on the stuff I needed to do in the moment.

I’ve also found that spending too much time filing and categorizing emails didn’t work for me. I’d forget categories or put one email in the wrong place, making it impossible to find when I actually needed it. I have a lot more success just archiving emails I want to keep in one folder and deleting everything else. This also helps me better find past emails again because an email search in that one folder will probably show me what I’m looking for.

Finally, I try not to look at email for a couple hours before bed and in the first hour of your morning. My brain appreciates the break!

Choosing less email helped me receive a lot less unhelpful email and made me better equipped to deal with what comes in. Choosing even a little less can make a big difference to your email volume — and your email sanity.

This post is adapted from a weekday newsletter I wrote in April 2018, Choose Less.