Let’s have a topical period of abstinence, and put our inboxes on a diet. It’s time to trim the fat, and lose the bac’n.
What’s bac’n? Bac’n is similar to spam (hence the name). It’s not as bad (highly processed?) as spam, in that it’s not unsolicited… however, it’s still email you don’t really need or want. It’s email you agreed to receive, unlike spam, but you have to keep control of it otherwise it can control you!
Imagine you went on holiday, and came back to your inbox after some months. Nightmare. Somewhere in there are probably some interesting and important messages, but you know they are buried alive amongst all sorts of other stuff, even after you get rid of all the actual spam and nasties. Depending on how long you have been using email and the internet the volumes vary, but even if it’s not a huge problem now you can prevent it getting to be so by developing good habits. Here’s a few to be getting on with:
You probably get far more product news and updates from brands and shops than you actually have time or inclination to read. At some point you ordered something and didn’t untick a box saying they could ‘occasionally send you information’ or some such… and still they come. If you usually just delete them away, remember that for 2 clicks more you can unsubscribe and never have to deal with them again. If you don’t want to read it now, will you really want to next time? If the answer is no, scroll down to the bottom of the message and find the ‘unsubscribe’ link, there has to be one though they don’t have to make it hugely obvious. Then kiss it goodbye.
Someone commented on your Facebook status. Someone bid on your eBay auction. That auction you are watching is ending soon! Amazon just despatched your order… all of this is important information, but it’s up to you to decide how important and whether you want an automated email alert about it every time. All of these extensive sites have settings you can log into and manage, often at quite a granular level – for example, you might want to receive comments on your Facebook status, but not be deluged with alerts every time someone says something in a busy group you are subscribed to. You want to know if Amazon has actually sent you a parcel, but not every time they think of something you ‘might be interested in’. It may take a bit of time to fiddle your way through all the settings but the payback in sanity and time in the future makes it worth it.
Use filters and folders
Not sure you want to lose that potentially-interesting newsletter subscription forever, but don’t want to read it the second it arrives either? Messages sat around in your inbox unattended to can drain your mental energy every time you spot it there, even to the point that you keep opening it and closing it to remind yourself what it is and why you didn’t delete it yet. Get it out of sight, and out of mind until you are ready for it! Depending on your mail set-up you can create folders (e.g. ‘to read’), and either just move stuff in there as it comes in or better still create rules and filters to automate that process. Exactly how to do this depends on exactly what you use to receive and read your email, in Outlook and Outlook express you will be dealing with Rules, in most webmail it’ll be tags or filters, but basically there will be a way to tell your mail client that messages from firstname.lastname@example.org should get shunted right off into that subfolder, and not left mixed in with all your important personally-addressed stuff.
Keep an eye on this folder by the way – if it is mounting up with a pile of unread stuff over weeks, perhaps you ought to be reaching for the unsubscribe key occasionally instead. Just saying… And you can also use folders to manage emails you DO want to keep, such as all the family correspondence, or things relating to specific work or projects. Personally I find it works best to have some stuff sent directly to folders on arrival – things I review once a month but never in real-time – and other things I prefer to read or at least scan in my inbox, then dump off to a holding place elsewhere. The important thing is to get a system going that works for you, so that you feel in control of your email, rather than the other way around. To paraphrase the master of productivity David Allen – there is no such thing as information overload – otherwise your head would explode the first time you connected to the internet or walked in to a library. What we have to deal with is attention overload.
Good luck, let me know how you get on – @casslar
Published in Costa Blanca News, 24th February 2012