Sunday, May 04, 2008

May 1 Was Email Bankruptcy Day

I have a new policy, only a few months old. It is a policy of total capitulation and surrender. It is a policy that is essentially meaningless, but makes me feel marginally better.

I call it Email Bankruptcy Day, and it happens on the first of every month.

I'm a Filer, not a Piler. I realize with the powerful email search functions available with such tools or Gmail or Apple Mail, many people have gotten in the habit of just leaving everything in their inbox and searching when they need to retrieve a particular conversation thread, but I cannot operate that way. The size of my inbox is a visual sign of how much I need to get done.

I actually touch every email as it comes in and try to sort it into one of two general categories of email:

-Emails to be filed: Something that is purely an FYI and requires neither an action from me nor a response from someone else gets filed right away into one of the many folders I have.

-Emails awaiting response: This is a folder I keep of emails sent by me or others that are awaiting a response from someone else to move toward completion or resolution. I occasionally check that folder and start pinging away to nudge people into responding when they haven't.

That's really about it. If I believe an email deserves a response or action from me, I leave it in my Inbox. And I have long believed in not letting your inbox get filled with over a dozen, maybe two dozen messages tops.

Cue maniacal laughter.

Because, seriously, I can't remember the last time I was actually able to hold to that philosophy. It is probably over a year, since before BlogHer '07, that I was able to keep the Inbox under control.

And it made me feel really bad, and overwhelmed, and on the edge, and like I had to work ALL the time.

So a few months ago I decided I simply had to declare Email Bankruptcy. I moved everything from 2007 into a folder entitled Action 2007. yes, in my heart of hearts I still believe those emails deserve my care, but let's face it: They didn't get it and may never get it (and oh, by the way, the world didn't totally come to an end.)

I moved everything from January and February into folders entitled Action January 2008 and so on. (The "Action" designator ensures the folders are at the top of my folder queue, so I still see those folders and know they're there.)

On April 1st, I moved March emails into their own folder.

And on May 1st I did the same to April.

Have I changed the fact that I have hundreds of emails I believe I should be answering that I haven't? No, I realize that I haven't.

But does it somehow alleviate my email panic to do this? Yes, for some reason it does.

Whenever people ping me apologetically, I actually thank them for it, and just about everybody seems to get it.

Whenever I finally do answer an email two months late and apologize for my very delayed response, it is now rare for anyone to act offended...most people seem not at all surprised and not at all put off.

I actually think the whole world (or perhaps just MY whole world) is full of people straining under the burden of Email Overload too.

Yes, I would be a better person if I was as responsive and efficient as I wish I was. But in the meantime, the first of every month is now Email Bankruptcy Day, and now I'm going public, outing myself about it, and wondering if anyone else out there has resorted to this policy too.


I am also a filer and not a piler. If my inbox has more than a dozen emails, I get a little punchy.

I keep really active discussions visible in my inbox - til the discussion really ends or until the end of the day, then they get filed.

Everything else gets answered as quickly as I can possibly answer. I hate filing unanswered email. It makes me queasy.

If I ever reach the point that I can't answer email quickly - I don't know what I'll do. It scares me to think about it.
eeek! I took the test and I'm officially a piler who wants to be a filer :-( My inbox completely overwhelms me on most days so I really need some help! I seriously need a 12 step program and am going to take your suggestions and hopefully I can get on the path to happy filing.

Much love, xoxo-pm
Ooh -- I love this. Thanks for twittering the link today. I'm very much in your inbox-management-style camp, and this might be the answer.

or, more likely, it will happen Whenever I Get Fed Up with Feeling Guilty and Want to Alleviate Pressure, rather than on the first of every month...
Thanks Sarah. Oddly enough, I came up with the 1st of the month as a consistent thing so that people emailing me might begin to have that expectation. Basically if you've emailed me, and I haven't answered...and you know about my policy, then you know on the 1st that your chances of response have just dropped precipitously, and you might want to ping me.

See what I mean.

I mean I'm trying to be considerate about my rudeness!
I use Typinator - you enter a code for often used phrases so you type a few letters and boom there's your sentence, code, what have you.

I totally have one for "Please excuse my slow response..."

This is genius. I just found this post after Googling around about email bankruptcy (I'm so there) and just love these ideas. Thanks for sharing!
Glad I could help Jennifer :)
I too have the same problem, but this usually occurs on a daily basis. I subscribe to myriad food related blogs, sites, etc., and get completely flooded every day. God forbid, I don't check my email for a couple of days......E-GADS!.....there are hundreds of emails just waiting for some type of response. But like yourself, they all deserve to be read or acknowledged, and I find myself either filing or now deleting altogether. Deleting feels "dirty" and "cleansing" at the same time.....LOL. It's the system I use now, but obviously it's riddled with failure. Maybe some young computer geek will create the next "must have" email gadget.
Love your idea--strikes me as a kinder, gentler way of dealing with things I think I 'should' deal with but can't or won't or don't because there are only 24 hours in a day and life is short.
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