Last Wednesday, I spent two hours writing an article. When I resurfaced, more than 60 new emails had arrived. The next day, I went on a train to a conference and listened to a speech. During that three-hour period, more than 90 new emails hit my inbox.
It was around 3am the following morning, unable to sleep, that I realised sometime in 2013, email went from being ‘ho ho my inbox is a bit unmanageable’ to ‘actually, my inbox is now a constant, thrumming source of low-level stress even outside work hours’.
There are very few things more boring online than journalists bitching about email. Apologies for adding to the pile. But perhaps someone can help.
I use Gmail for my email, so the vast majority of spam is filtered out. Maybe 20% of incoming emails can be deleted on sight too: press releases about industries I no longer cover; newsletters or marketing promotions I haven’t gotten round to unsubscribing from yet; boiler-plate ‘no analogs in AppStore!’ mobile app pitches*, and so on.
That still leaves thousands of emails that could require a response, whether a short acknowledgement or a longer conversation. At this point, if I’m not actively sat at a computer answering emails, I’m worrying about how I’m going to deal with the emails I’m not sat at a computer actively answering right now.
A weekly two-hour session where every reply begins “I’m so sorry…’ isn’t really helping any more. Frankly, I’m floundering.
I don’t want not to get emails. It’s my job. Press releases, event invites, app pitches, swapping gossip with friends and contacts, zipping ideas back and forth with colleagues at The Guardian’s tech team and Music Ally (my two main jobs as a freelancer) are all really important.
As is politeness: if someone thinks I’m worth telling about the app they made, I’d like to reply – if only to let them know I got the email and will consider it. I am grateful that people want to email me – often, the reason journalists bitching about email comes across badly is the ‘how dare these people bother me’ vibe.
So… yes. Email. What can I do to be more responsive to the emails (well, the people) I want to respond to, and how can I at least squash email back into being a work-time problem, rather than a non-work-time stress? Some things I’ve tried or thought of:
- Mailbox app for iPhone/iPad. Beautifully done, sometimes stress-relieving as a way to delete that 20% of not-relevant emails – it’s like Fruit Ninja with your inbox! – but not quite helping yet with the other 80%.
- Unroll.me. This looks great for unsubscribing from those unwanted newsletters and promotions. It found 700-odd ‘subscriptions’ in my email, some of which were subscriptions, and others of which were individual PR people or companies. I haven’t had the oomph yet to manually go through the list to decide which to keep.
- Gmail’s multiple inboxes. No. Tried for a bit, and found them more stressful: five inboxes to check rather than one. Something in my brain couldn’t cope with cycling between them rather than having one thing to clear. Well, not clear, but you know what I mean.
- An auto-responder. When I’m away at conferences, I put on an auto-respond along the lines of ‘away, please don’t expect a reply quickly’. What about doing this all the time. “stuffed inbox, sorry if I’m slow to reply’. Then I read this Valleywag post and a piece by Jason Calacanis on some insufferable examples, and haven’t been able to shake the idea that I’d seem like a douche for following suit.
- Hiding from my inbox on Twitter. Solves the stress thing, a little, but ultimately isn’t really helping the core issue. And people come for me there, when they don’t get an email reply ;)
Anyway, yes. Email. Advice welcome from all quarters.