How I am trying to win the battle of the inbox
Over the last few years managing my email inboxes has been a losing battle. The fact I just said “inboxes” is already a cause for alarm! Many sane people may have one email for work and one for personal. Not me...
The founder of two companies I have two primary email addresses for them. Add into the mix multiple rebrands and name changes and I have at least 3 other email addresses that forward to one or both accounts. This means I've been receiving 100s of emails a day from a multitude of aliases.
Over time, I became very lax in my work/life separation and thus my personal email began to fill with business items and my business emails with personal. With this setup I was now trapped in an endless cycle of checking multiple inboxes during the day, evening, weekend or even vacation.
In order to keep on top of them I had to spend 30 mins a day minimum just organising emails that came in into folders and delete as much rubbish as I could.
With notifications coming in every minute, a bad habit of email checking formed fuelling my already elevated anxiety. I recognised something needed to change and since the beginning of 2021 it has started to improve.
What I tried first (Plan A)
Hoping for quick wins and soon realising there were none, I took a step in the right direction during the last quarter of 2020, including:
Notifications on my phone and on my desktop were a huge distraction, so I figured if I disable them that would help. It did, a little. But old muscle memory is hard to beat and before long rather than relying on notifications I was sticking my head into all my inboxes to see what was happening, day and night.
To this I added unsubscribing from items as they came in or changing what email was associated to the notification email. It's become a habit and I imagine it's going to take a while longer yet.
Using rules and Sanebox
As I continued I saw there were certain messages I could create rules for myself and automatically file or reject them. Given the amount of work I had to put into that I found SaneBox that I could “train” to do most of this for me.
Whilst not perfect by any stretch of the imagination SaneBox did an amazing job at dramatically reducing the amount of irrelevant email in my direct inboxes. I still had to develop a habit of checking all the folders for any important emails, so I could continue to train the system, but over time my stress certainly reduced.
Why these were not enough
Sure I was headed in the right direction but these activities did not get to the root of my issue. Focusing on practical ways to reduce my email, I'd lost sight of resolving the fundamental problem.
I had no personal or work separation. I was maintaining multiple email addresses all in receipt of an unhealthy blend of personal, work and spam messages.
My plan B
I've come to realise I need to take drastic steps and have a plan:
Reduce my email accounts, remove old addresses, close old accounts, unsubscribe from most lists and start a new clean personal account. The ideal being one personal email and one business email.
Cutting my email accounts
I've been running careful scans of my archives to discover what services I have and what email aliases were used. If they are old brands, then I log into the relevant platform and update my information accordingly.
The view is to retire the aliases by mid Q2 of 2021.
I have also made my one of my business emails the primary account I manage my day-to-day communications. This will allow me to move my other business into a “team” inbox that my colleagues can manage removing any need for me be checking in on it.
For extra spam protection and to manage my email forwarding as I de-google my businesses we've taken to using “Forward Email”. This works really well and is super cost effective. They have their own spam protection as an extra layer reducing significantly the rubbish that can get through.
I'd be a Zillionaire by now if all those scam emails were true. I'd probably also be in jail or dead.
The theory is I'm sending all email for all aliases to Forward Email first then over time I can change where they route as I reduce the number that come to be. It's also great for creating extra emails to hide my personal email address where I might want to fire up a “burner” address that I can close when not needed.
Thunderbird email client
As I had been de-googling I realized some of my impulse was likely encouraged by the interfaces, notifications and sheer accessibility from anywhere through the Google ecosystem. I figured I'd go back in time to when I had to open an email client to read my emails.
No longer is there any business email coming to my phone, and my new personal address is installed via Fair Email with a very strict sync and notification policy.
For me to engage with my inbox, it is far more convenient now to do so during set work hours via my PC which has the Thunderbird email client installed on it. I can manage my accounts, calendar and other communications all within one interface and once it is closed, I am done.
I'm re-establishing the habit of checking the inbox two or three times a day and keeping it closed otherwise. No more push notifications or constant access via Gmail in my browsers.
No plan C
Through the rest of Q1, I am operating as if there is no Plan C. For a better worklife balance and for my mental health email has to be controlled. It's there to serve me, my family, my businesses and my clients. Serve being the point. I am not here to service it.
I'll be reporting back in Q2 on how my day-to-day email management is going. Until then reach out on Mastodon with any tips. I sure need them!