I practically live in my inbox. It’s something that I imagine most people do, and it’s also the reason many of us have grown to hate our email. Email can be so useful yet we all sign up for all sorts of services which bombard us with advertising messages once a day or more. The reality is that you can opt-out from most of your pain.
For the past 36 hours I’ve been unsubscribing from practically every product email and it has dramatically reduced my inbound email volume by well over 50%. While it’s still the weekend, I’m pretty confident that as I go through next week, my time spent in the inbox will have decreased a ton thanks to clicking unsubscribe. Yet clicking unsubscribe only gets you part of the way to an empty inbox. So how do you get the rest of the way?
All too often the remaining emails are messages that result in tasks being put on your todo list. Rather than simply responding to all the emails I decided to write down every type of email that I found in my inbox while cleaning it out, and here’s what I came up with:
- Newsletters - This was the vast majority of my messages and unfortunately I had to just click unsubscribe. If I really like the newsletter I’ll set up a filter in Gmail that has the newsletter skip my inbox and go to a folder that I can “read at a later date”.
- Email reminders to myself - This is unfortunately a common behavior of mine. I end up shooting myself a quick email to add tasks to my todo list or quickly complete the next day. The reality is that there are more activities that we can possibly accomplish in a day so at some point I’ll need to find a way to store a personal “wishlist” of tasks that I’d like to complete some day if I have more time.
- Scheduling meetings with unknown people who I want to meet - Many of the messages that I receive are scheduling requests. However I’ve concluded that meetings with people who you don’t know need to have a more efficient filtering process. This post on Quora highlights a few interesting models to filtering requests. For me the process is pretty simple: I block out a set time on my schedule during which I’ll do Skype interviews. I then provide a link for people who want to meet during those time slots so they can schedule it. It’s quickly out of the inbox.
- Scheduling with unknown people who I don’t want to meet - Sometimes there’s people who want to get together and chat, but if you have too many items on your schedule it become pretty difficult to fit them in. The Quora thread I posted in the last item suggests that you get people to jump through hoops in order to meet with you. However at some point you have to simply filter people out. I just archive the message and if they keep being persistent I’ll eventually move them up to a Skype meeting to make things more efficient.
- Party invites - I wish I received these more often! While my inbox gives me the false feeling of being popular, the reality is that I rarely get party invites. Send me one and make me feel happy and I’ll try to do the same!
- Scheduling with people I reached out to - Sometimes I actually request meetings with other people … gasp!!! This is how you can tell who truly cares about you :) Just as I’ve devised my own filtering mechanisms, so have most other people. However when they reply, we typically go on this back and forth process of finding when we’re both available. I’m in the midst of perfecting a system to deal with eliminating this back and forth process, however in the meantime, I think it’s best to immediately send over a list of potential time slots.
- Invoice payment requests - Bills suck, but you have to pay them! Pay them and get them out of your inbox. Somebody should seriously come up with a system where you can forward a bill and set a payment date for those that can’t pay immediately (or don’t want to).
- Contract agreement signatures - This one is annoying as hell but I’m currently exploring solutions like Docusign to make this process easier. Printing a document, signing, and scanning it takes too much time and wastes paper. It’s far easier to review an agreement and fill in any information on the computer. As such if I receive and agreement I ask the person if we can use Docusign or some other form of e-signature service to get this done quicker.
- Automated product inquiries - Some services that I’ve subscribed to send me automated emails in an effort to make my life more efficient. I can’t begin to describe the irony in this. The bottom line is this: if you want to make me more productive, don’t keep me in my inbox as I become immune to daily messages. I’ve since unsubscribed from all of these.
- Interview requests - This really doesn’t happen as often as I’d hope. However all the other emails previously prevented me from replying to these. Any opportunity for getting free promotion should always be taken so long as it doesn’t take an excessive amount of time to respond to the inquiries.
- Introduction requests - This one’s pretty self explanatory and to be honest, I haven’t come up with a perfect solution for this. Sometimes people want a single intro which is typically fine but other times they send me a list and ask for tons of intros. I feel like that’s a guaranteed way to get a non-response. Two things: don’t ask people for high profile intros without a strong working relationship. My relationships with high-profile people are probably not very strong and there’s no way I’d use up an intro or favor for someone I don’t know very well. I’d be curious to hear how people approach this problem.
- Speaking requests - This is also extremely rare. I know, I know, you probably think I get these requests all the time ;) Seriously though, if you need to fly somewhere to speak, it’s typically not worth the effort unless they are paying you. However if you have a nearby event that someone asks you to speak at, I typically take the opportunity because it’s nice to support any local community event. Aside from that, I’ll leave you to figure out how to handle these as it’s not really a problem for most people.
- Domain bids - I own way too many domains (like over 150) and I forward them all to Sedo to let people bid on them. I receive bids a few times a week but most don’t amount to anything. These don’t take long to reply to however! So after going through all these emails, I’ve come up with a few key problems that I run into: scheduling requests, payment requests, introduction requests, and contract signatures. Developing a system to handle these requests efficiently can save you A TON of time and get you out of your inbox quickly. Additionally, if you want to keep people on your email list for a longer period of time, you should give them the option to get weekly or monthly digest emails just like AppSumo did. Once I come up with my own solutions to these tasks that take time, I’ll be sure to post a follow-up post.
Unsubscribe button image found via Damian Saunders who also found out the satisfaction from clicking unsubscribe.