My email inbox is a swamp. A morass. A disaster.
I’ve applied email triage techniques many times, and yes, I’ve succeeded in clearing out the muck and actually even seeing the bottom at times. But just like my home and studio and garden, the weeds keep growing back…
I’ve used all kinds of techniques to try and maintain inbox order, including setting up filters so that newsletters land in an entirely separate folder. In fact, I have a totally separate email address for newsletters, so they can’t leap into my eyeballs, unbidden, whenever I peruse my inbox.
This has been a big help. I subscribe to a gumpzillion newsletters, and when they used to all land in my inbox it was utter chaos.
But the separate newsletter folder creates its own problems. The newsletters in there range from “Gee, I never read this, and really should unsubscribe,” to “Oh, this is fun to look at once in a while,” to “Must! Not! Miss!”
But because they’re all lumped in together, those latter ones often do get missed.
So I’ve allowed a small subset of “must read” newsletters back into my inbox, but that isn’t really optimal, either, because then I all-too-easily find myself sucked into reading newsletters, when that isn’t really how I want to spend my time right now.
My #1 Technique for Avoiding Email Black Holes
The truth is, when I go into my email, I’m most productive when I think ahead about what, specifically, I’m intending to do in there.
Rather than just “checking email,” it helps for me to have a clear plan.
“I’m going to check if any clients got back to me about their ketubah proofs, so I can respond quickly if necessary, and then I’m going to get out of my inbox and focus back on my writing.”
“I’m going to take 30 minutes to read and respond to Your Big, Bold, Creative Life Academy forum posts and comments, and then I’m going to get out of my inbox and focus back on my writing.”
“I’m going to see if my Wonder-Assistant finished that task I set her to, send a quick reminder if she didn’t, and then I’m going to get out of my inbox and focus back on my writing.”
(Note: Sometimes it’s “and then I’m going to get out of my inbox and focus back on making art,” or “focus back on fixing my website,” or “focus back on [something else entirely]” Today’s a big writing day, though, so that’s where my brain is going.)
When I’ve got a clearly focused intention for exactly why I’m diving into my inbox right now, and exactly what I want to accomplish in there, it helps me to avoid getting sucked into the email-internet black hole.
You know, the one that spits you out, dazed, a couple of hours later, wondering where you are, who you are, and what in the heck just happened to you? Yeah, that one.
Enter Gmail’s New Tabs…
Even with a clearly focused intention, though, an inbox with all kinds of messages, with all kinds of purposes, from all different kinds of senders, is still a sticky wicket.
That’s why I broke out into a chorus of Glory, Glory, Hallelujah when I saw the new Gmail tabbed email layout.
Finally! The jumble of important notes from clients and personal contacts, promotional messages, forum updates, and social network updates, has been untangled!
Now, simply by clicking on a tab, I can move from category to category, as if I’m moving from room to room. It makes my email black hole avoidance technique above ever so much easier!
I feel like I can breathe again.
I know a lot of internet businesses got their panties in a twist over this new Gmail roll-out. Their newsletters, which may have previously landed in your inbox along with every other non-filtered message, suddenly got diverted to the Promotions tab.
You’d have thought the sky was falling.
I also haven’t felt so ordered about since Miss Uchida’s 4th grade class. Newsletter after newsletter directed me to “drag this email over into your Primary tab right now!”
It kinda ticked me off, actually.
I will drag, or not drag, your email to whatever-the-hell tab I want, thank you very much.
And no matter what you think you want me to do with your newsletter, I guarantee you that if I move it over to the Primary tab, it will end up either A) getting dragged right back to Promotions, or B) getting deleted, or B) getting totally unsubscribed from. None of which are, I think, what you are aiming for.
You may want the newsletters you subscribe to in your Primary tab, and that’s totally fine. I don’t.
And that doesn’t mean I don’t want your promotions!
I subscribed to your newsletter for a reason: I want to receive it. But I want to read it on my terms, when I want to read it. Not when I’m popping in to check and see if my client finally got back to me.
And now that Gmail has blessedly moved your newsletter out of my inbox, when I do want to read it, I know just where to find it!
[Pause while I break into another chorus of Hallelujah.]
Yep, I know a lot of newsletter senders are scared about their newsletter being labeled a “promotion,” but it is a promotion. Mine is too. I run a business here. Commerce is involved. It’s cool. I write newsletters to promote it. Hopefully my readers get value from what I write, and hopefully none of this is news.
Promotions aren’t bad. I don’t want to unsubscribe from my gumpzillions of email newsletters. I just want to find them when I want to find them, and read then on my terms.
(All this is to say, if you also use Gmail, and you’re one of my Insiders, you won’t hear me telling you where to drag my dispatches. I trust you to put it wherever it works best for you.)
And now I’m going to check my inbox for pre-homework replies from my Your Big, Bold, Creative Life Academy members, and then I’m getting out of my inbox and focus back on writing.
PS – Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!