There’s no solution for email that doesn’t involve huge amounts of wasted time, is there?

just email

Hey, 1997 is calling. It says it has 9,374 emails for you…

I had had it with email about 20 years ago. You?

The worst thing about it is that it keeps coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it other than waste time on it — a certain amount (way more than you want to spend) each day, or gargantuan amounts now and then.

I saw a headline recently in The Washington Post that said: “The three worst things about email, and how to fix them.

I should have known better by now than to click on it, but I looked, and the blasted thing was 2,700 words long. In the amount of time it would take me to read and absorb that, I could delete a thousand emails. Also, I skimmed enough to see there were no real “solutions.” There were apps you could buy, of course, and the phrase “and pay $100 per year for it” persuaded me of the rightness of merely skimming.

Anyway, it begins like this:

Apologies if you’ve been waiting for an email from me. My Gmail has 17,539 unread messages.

Raise your hand if you have even more….

What, I’m going to take email-handling advice from a guy who has 17,539 unread messages?

Of course, I’d have that many in my In box if I didn’t take fitful stabs each day at at least skimming the first page of headlines, to see it there was something I actually needed to look at.

As it was, I had somewhere close to 9,000 in the various compartments of my In box (I refer to the way Gmail presumes to sort that box into “Primary,” “Social” and “Promotions.”) I don’t know exactly, because I didn’t add it all up before I started attacking it.

How much time did I expend on it? Well, I only got in about 8,000 steps Saturday, and basically I got NO walking or working on the elliptical in Sunday — which means I only got in the normal 2,860 from walking around the house.

I probably won’t make my steps goal for this month now (although I’ll try in these last four days — I had been on target before those two wasted days).

I won’t even start listing the things I needed to do and could have done OTHER than stepping if I hadn’t wasted so much time on email.

What did I get for that? Well, I deleted or filed (and in RARE instances read) the 1,300 or so in the “Primary” part of the In box. That’s the hard part. This morning, when I should have been working, I cleared out the “Social” section — none of that really needs to be looked at, although I filed away items naming members of my family or friends, in case someone asks “Did you see what I posted on Facebook?”)

That left the 6,000 or 7,000 in “Promotions.” This is 99 percent garbage, and the rest mildly interesting stuff I might want to glance at if I have nothing else to do, which of course is never the case.

I work through it pretty quickly. I highlight a page of 100 messages, and run my eyes down the whole list to at least give myself a chance of spotting something important that got placed in that category by accident — by which I mean, through the stupidity of the software — before deleting it all. Then I go to the next page. Ten pages for each thousand…

If I spend an hour each evening this week on it, I’ll probably have it cleaned out by the weekend.

I don’t think there is a solution to this, other than getting someone else to do it. Back when I was editorial page editor, I had a secretary. But I never asked her to do it (although I thought about it, many times), for two reasons:

  1. No one else can spot those odd things you sometimes need or want to read — say, a cryptic note from a friend from 30 years ago, or a release from some source you would normally ignore that contains critical info about something you’ve been thinking about addressing in a column — unless he or she can read your mind and know everything and everyone you know.
  2. I couldn’t bring myself to inflict that on another human being.

Anyway, there’s just no solution, is there? You just have to throw away significant portions of your life on it, don’t you?

(Please, please, please tell me I’m wrong…)

About to delete everything on THIS page...

About to delete everything on THIS page…

16 thoughts on “There’s no solution for email that doesn’t involve huge amounts of wasted time, is there?

  1. Norm Ivey

    Oh, my. You are a digital hoarder who has FOMO.

    I’ll offer some advice, but I’ve learned that people’s digital habits are hard to change. I apologize if you have already tried these methods.

    The most important thing I’ve learned in dealing with emails is that the vast majority of them are of no interest to me, and if I can avoid ever seeing those, then I’m way ahead of the game.

    Evaluate your Inbox. Are you receiving things there that you never look at? Look for ways to remove those emails before they clutter up your Inbox. If they offer the opportunity to Unsubscribe, you could go that route. I’ve always been suspicious of that method. It seems to me by clicking on a link in an email, you’re alerting the sender that they’ve reached a real, live person, and so your email address gets sold to another sender.

    Instead, what I do is create a filter. With an email selected or open, click the three dots at the right end of the toolbar and select Create Filter. Follow the prompts. I usually just archive emails as opposed to deleting them. Archive does not delete them, and if I really need to find them again, I can do a search. If they are things I may need later, I file them. You can edit and delete filters in your Gmail Settings. If this doesn’t make sense, check YouTube for instructions. Look for a video made in the last couple of years because there were some changes made a while back.

    Since it sounds like you’re in the habit of checking your Promotions and Social tabs, consider creating a filter that sends the things you want to see back to your Primary Inbox.

    Also, check your Inbox settings. Click the gear in the upper right corner. Then click See all settings and then Inbox. You can turn off your Social and Promotions tabs if you find your don’t really need to look at those things.

    Also in your Settings under the General tab, there is an option about displaying external images. Turn that off. Many senders use mail tracking software that notifies them when an email is opened–again another clear signal to spammers that they’ve got a live one. Often that image is 1 pixel by 1 pixel–you don’t even realize it’s there.

    My current personal Gmail has 3 read messages, 0 unread. My school Gmail has about a dozen read messages, 0 unread. Just sayin’.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No need to apologize! Some good ideas. I’m especially going to explore this one:

      Instead, what I do is create a filter. With an email selected or open, click the three dots at the right end of the toolbar and select Create Filter. Follow the prompts. I usually just archive emails as opposed to deleting them. Archive does not delete them, and if I really need to find them again, I can do a search. If they are things I may need later, I file them. You can edit and delete filters in your Gmail Settings. If this doesn’t make sense, check YouTube for instructions. Look for a video made in the last couple of years because there were some changes made a while back….

      Sounds like a definite poss to me. I intend to explore the possibilities.

      I’ve tried the “unsubscribe,” but like you I don’t trust it, and the thing is, it, too, is time-consuming!

      I get so many emails from so many sources that stopping to try to unsubscribe from each one instead of just deleting it seems onerous. I’ve tried it, though. A couple of times I’ve spent maybe an hour going through and unsubscribing to each source — but I never feel like I’ve gained ground doing it.

      I have some good news, though: I wrote this between finishing the “Primary” and starting on the “Promotions.” I’ve gone through about a thousand of the promotions, and I’ve realized something.

      I make it a policy to just save everything from Amazon. I don’t read any of them; I just throw them into a folder in case I need them.

      And one of the things that slows me down in cleaning out “Promotions” is stopping to save the Amazon messages.

      But today, I paused long enough to LOOK AT some of the headlines on those emails — and they’re all, well, promotional. They have nothing to do with anything I’ve ordered or need to respond to. They’re all of the “You might be interested in this” variety. And I don’t EVER need anything like that!

      This is awesome. The elimination of the Promotions subfolder is going MUCH faster now…

      Reply
  2. Bryan Caskey

    Once you get it under control, I would think about 10-15 minutes is all you need to keep it maintained.

    I get over a hundred emails a day at my work address. A significant part of my day is dealing with email, but then again, that’s part of the job.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Once you get it under control, I would think about 10-15 minutes is all you need to keep it maintained.”

      That’s correct, for the day or two that it stays in order. Then, in my experience, things fall apart. There’s always that bad day or two when you can’t. And then it would take more time than you have for the next few days. And then the evil spirits or whatever cast a spell, and a month has passed…

      I’ve been getting more than a hundred a day since, I guess, the 90s. And no, I don’t just accept it as part of the job. Not my personal email. I see it as a huge intrusion on the job, since so much of it ends up having nothing to do with the job.

      I have a two-account system, and have for many years.

      At The State, people inside the building would get frustrated with me because I didn’t respond to their email right away. So I had a second account created, just for my fellow members of senior staff (heads of HR, advertising, circulation, finance, etc.). They always wanted some internal thing done like a form filled out or something. That was a nice, orderly little flow, and manageable.

      But the other account, the public account, was for the rest of the world. And of course, that was the one that really related to my JOB, to the journalism. It was pretty overwhelming, a tidal wave every day. I dealt with it the best I could, and got the job done.

      I have separate accounts now, too. I keep up with the separate one for ADCO stuff, pretty well. Sometimes someone will send me something after I’ve quit looking for the day, and I won’t respond until the next day, but usually I get back same day.

      But the other one, the personal one — that’s like the one for the world at the paper. Now, of course, no one pays me to keep up with my personal email. That’s the one this post is about…

      Reply
  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’ve got that “Promotions” subfolder down under 2,000 now…

    I’m getting there.

    We’ll be engaged in mopping-up operations by the weekend…

    Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Done! I’ve got like four messages in my In box that I need to deal with in one way or another.

          There are always messages like that, and in them lies the danger. They stack up.

          But I’m on my guard…

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            In other words, VICTORY!

            This morning, I got it down to those four again. Still need to deal with them. (Three of them are things I want to post about on the blog, but haven’t gotten to because I’ve been busy this week with stuff like, you know, killing emails.)

            Total, unconditional victory.

            Carthago delenda est.

            No, wait. That’s “Carthage must be destroyed.”

            And now, it HAS BEEN. Google Translate says that “Carthage has been destroyed” should be “Deleta Carthago est…”

            I’m not sure about that, though. If you ask it how to say, “Carthage must be destroyed,” it suggests, “delendam esse Carthaginem.

            So Google Translate thinks it knows better than Cato the Elder….

            Not that I know anything, but actually the original phrase, “Carthago delenda est,” looks to ME like it says “Carthage IS destroyed.”

            Doesn’t it? Does anybody remember high school Latin better than I do?

            Maybe Google knows what it’s on about. But Cato was the first guy to write in Latin, so…

            Reply
  4. bud

    Herman Cain just died from COVID. Probably contracted at Trump’s idiotic rally in Tulsa. Will the madness ever end?

    Reply
  5. Norm Ivey

    One more comment on your promotions folder…insisting on laying eyes on every one of those is like recording a TV show and then not skipping the commercials when you watch it.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What, and miss a good commercial?

      I think up a lot of excuses to at least skim over them.

      For instance…

      Campaign ads I got from MJ Hegar are how I learned that she was running for the U.S. Senate. Which surprised me. You’d think I’d have run across that info some other way, with all the stuff I read.

      Not that I needed to know, but I was curious about her because of her awesome, legendary ad from when she ran for the House in 2018, “Doors.”

      I remember bringing that ad to James and Mandy’s attention during the campaign, showing it to them on my iPad.

      Later, we hired the same guy to make one for us. It was good, but not a impressive as “Doors.” Here it is. Watch the amazing transitions from scene to scene:

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Anyway, I’ve been saving her ads in case I want to say something about her sometime. Today, I even glanced at one, because she was saying something about the interesting fact that Texas is in play for the Democrats in 2020.

        I’ve also been saving the many, many ads I get from Joe Biden and Jaime Harrison. I’m not even glancing at them, but I’m storing them in case something comes up regarding one of them…

        I say “ads.” Really, I mean they’re appeals for funding…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That’s really one of the hazards of being me. All those years as editorial page editor, I knew ANYTHING that fell into my hands might be something I write about.

          And the same is true for a blogger…

          Reply

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