Last month I left my phone in a hotel safe. For a week.
I’ll admit, I mostly did this because I didn’t have data in the country we were visiting (I didn’t want to come home to a post-vacation 4-digit phone bill), but I was also intrigued by the lure of freedom… no email, no texts, no social media. It would be like traveling back in time to the 1990’s, minus the new episodes of Seinfeld and an innocent-looking Britney Spears.
Surprisingly, it didn’t feel strange to not have my phone with me. This was probably because I was in a new place, outside my typical routine, and abandoning my phone habit fit in with the overall novelty of the experience.
But when we got back to the US, all bets were off. As soon as we hit American soil, I fired up the old gal to see what I’d missed. My red email notification flashed: 98 new emails.
Now, I know some people get that many emails in one day. I’m lucky that I don’t work in a business that is overloaded with email, but still, seeing that number–98–raised my blood pressure a bit. I decided to just delete all the ones I knew I didn’t need to read.
When I was done, I had 12 emails left. Twelve.
That’s when the truth hit me: most email is a waste of time.
Josh (who is one of those folks who receives 100+ emails per day) and I sometimes speculate about how people did jobs before email. We came of working age in the digital world, so we don’t know firsthand, but we imagine that they just did their work without feeling the need to copy everybody and their brother on it. They probably remembered their appointments because they didn’t expect multiple reminders. They probably talked thorny issues out on the phone instead of trying to decipher the emotional undertone of an emoji.
Was it better? Who knows, and really, does it matter? That time has passed and–unless you request a transfer to your company’s satellite office in a Chilean mountain village–it’s not coming back.
However, I think there are things we can do to manage the email beast. Here are some strategies I’m trying lately. Perhaps they will be helpful to you:
- Unsubscribe: This was the first thing I did after my 98-to-12 epiphany. Most of the emails I deleted were subscriptions. Interestingly, I send a monthly newsletter for my business, and I can see when people unsubscribe. I’ll admit, I feel a twinge of sadness when I get that unsubscribe notification (Was my content not funny enough? Did I offend you? Don’t you love me???), but that quickly passes and I think, “Good. They are eliminating things that don’t add value to their life.” That’s what minimalism is all about.
- Turn off notifications: I dug into the settings on my social media accounts and toggled nearly all my email alerts to “off”. This saves tons of email!
- Limit the # of times you check email each day: I’m experimenting with checking email only once per day. This has been challenging (and not always successful) but when I stick to a once daily check, my days feel more free. I think to truly limit myself to checking just once per day I’d need to take my email account off my phone… and I’m just not ready to do that.
- Remember, it’s an email, not the Declaration of Independence: Except in rare cases, you don’t need to spend copious amounts of time crafting the perfect intro or catchy phrase. Save that for the singles bar. When it comes to email, just say what you wanna say. A typo here and there will probably go unnoticed.
- Communicate like a man: Ladies, don’t hate me on this one. This is something I’ve learned from Josh, who is routinely appalled at the number of exclamation points and smiley faces I put in email. While I’ve always found these additions “friendly,” Josh has a point that it can be distracting and overly casual. I will probably never completely eliminate exclamation points from my writing (I can’t do it! I absolutely can’t!! Trying would make me feel crazy!!!), but I’ve cut down and find that a “just the facts, ma’am” approach relieves me from the pressure of writing the email equivalent of a friendly letter, which saves time.
I hope this post inspires you to stop the email madness in your life a bit. It’s definitely something I’m working on and I’d love to hear ideas about how you manage your email! (See? Didn’t that exclamation point feel friendly?)
Rose Lounsbury is one of Dayton, Ohio’s top professional organizers and a sought-after public speaker. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. Rose is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and has been featured on Good Day Columbus. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, you can contact her at [email protected] or visit her online at OrganizeWithLess.com. Just realize she only plans to check that email once per day so don’t sweat it if she doesn’t respond lickity-split.