At the start of 2019, I wanted to conduct an experiment. I had grown irritated with the volume of email in my personal account. Each day, I would wake up to 10 or so new emails from various retailers with information on promotions, offers, and deals. I had tolerated these emails for sometime because I liked to keep abreast of potential deals that I could take advantage of.
However, the emails weren’t just morning updates. I would keep my personal email open at work and clear emails throughout the day, which forced me to continuously switch back and forth. I wanted a better way of managing the inflow of messages without unsubscribing to emails that genuinely were bringing me information I would want when planning upcoming purchases.
I took some time and set up around 60 filters to automatically route messages from my inbox to a separate Promotions folder (I know Gmail can handle this, but I wanted to be intentional with the process). I also unsubscribed to a bunch of lists where I never opened the messages. It was a lot of front end work that took a few days to complete, but slowly my inbox got quieter.
Now, after 3 months of progress, I have seen between 1,500-2,000 messages get routed away from my inbox. 2,000 messages that I never read, and didn’t have to make a decision whether to open it or automatically delete.
I don’t think of this as some sort of productivity hack. At most, I’ve saved maybe an hour of time in 3 months, so it’s not like it’s a quality of life adjustment. Instead, the value I find is in the mental bandwidth saved from not having to constantly switch back and forth through email.
It’s a signal and noise ratio issue. So much of my time is spent wading through a lot of noise that is distracting me from focusing my attention on what’s important. On the best of days, I do my best to fight off my inability to focus on work and maybe carve out some meaningful time by avoiding things that have been designed to draw me towards them (I’m looking at you, social media and YouTube). Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes my monkey brain gets the best of me.
There are two strategies to deal with this. You can either intentionally focus the signal, or you can do what I’ve done in this instance and try to turn down the noise a bit. Too much noise can interfere with the signals you are trying to pick up. While email is hardly a signal-killing thing in my life, it’s a steady trickle of distractions that I’ve started intentionally cutting to make room in my attention for more important things.