I go through email fads–when applying to college I proactively labeled every email from every college; I cyclically try to maintain an empty inbox; when I get really desperate, I select all of my inbox and delete anything I do not think I need to read.
Gmail has these little links at the top of my inbox–funny quotes, Business Week articles, and notifications of posts to the Gmail blog (it also features ads for Masters Degree programs, scholarship information and, weirdly, ads for vampire novels). A few weeks ago, I clicked on link to a Gmail post promising to teach me to “Become a Gmail Ninja.” With tips for (and graphics of) White, Green, Black and Master belts, I thought it was a little kitschy. But when I read through the entire thing, I decided to try some of the tips. I am now:
- Automatically filtering incoming email into simply-named folders (finances, human rights usa, mailing-lists, political mail, school, travel)
- Using brackets (> or >>) to tell me whether an email found me through a mailing list or a personal connection
- Enabling (and using) “send and archive” rather than “send”
- Allowing only internship-related and personal emails to my inbox (and starring internship-related emails)
- Keeping only emails that it is vital I respond meaningfully to in my inbox
Reactions thus far: these tips have reduced my email stress so much. I now know that any unopened email in my inbox is important and any opened email is one to which it is vital that I respond meaningfully (I seem to hold steady at 3-5 of these high-effort emails). I find I do not really want to go and read my “political mail.” Though it comes from some of my favorite organizations, I simply going to their blogs for the most up-to-date information. I love having all of my travel emails all in one place because it helps me keep updated on my changing travel arrangements. Travel arrangements are not something I need to see every day, but I do need quick access to all at once. Having all of those emails automatically filtered lets me check-in on my schedule but does not force me to weed through it to get to urgent personal email.
My responsibilities this summer are pretty simple: keep up with work, keep up with family, get ready for fall. Just like my digital housekeeping systems for a house of six, I am designing my email system to function in a future time when I expect to be stressed and rushed. I am not devising systems because I currently have a problem with email organization, but because I want to see if I can do it better in anticipation for a difficult year ahead.
“But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.” – Lord Byron