Email is an interesting part of our modern reality. It doesn’t actually exist, yet it consumes so much of our waking life.
Twenty years ago it was fun emailing someone and getting a reply. It felt efficient, and like a modern way to solve problems. But today, constant emailing can become a massive time suck, and when you have too many emails, it just sucks.
Despite my minimalist ethos in my real life, I have always been an email hoarder.
For as long as I can remember, my email inbox has been full of pieces of digital history that no longer mattered. Finished conversations, out of date newsletters, event plans that had already happened.
I’d developed this underlying belief that I might need to refer to these emails ‘someday’. But I never did.
I never really stopped to think about it, but whenever I’d open my email, I’d feel a subtle hum of anxiety. A feeling like there was so much stuff I needed to do. Even though only the top 10 or so emails were still relevant, it was having thousands sitting there that made me feel anxious.
I asked myself why I needed to keep a bunch of old emails? Did they help me? Were they relevant? Or valuable? Nope.
The answer was clear. It was time to bring my minimalism into the digital realm.
So here’s what I did:
– Unsubscribed from every single email newsletter (this was about 50% of my inbox)
– Setup an archive box with some tags: work, receipts, family, friends, speaking
– Spent two hours archiving and deleting everything in my inbox
This sounds simple, but there was some weird emotional attachment to a lot of the stuff I had stored in there.
Every time I’d try to press delete, my mind would find a small reason why I needed to keep this one particular email. I had to keep overriding the rationales and saying: ‘just click delete.’
Strangely, the more I clicked delete, the easier it got.
Eventually after about two hours, I reached the bottom of the pile and found this message underneath:
When I saw that message I felt a sense of relief. I never realized just how much those small electronic messages were holding my brain to ransom.
Over the next few days, I made sure to delete or archive every new email once it was answered. Every morning there would be new messages, but it was simpler to get through them and get back to zero by the end of the day.
Several years ago, Merlin Mann, a productivity expert gave a speech on the same topic titled Inbox Zero. In his talk, he explained the value of getting rid of virtual clutter:
“It’s not how many messages are in your inbox. It’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.”
I think the reason I was hanging onto my past emails was because they were somehow a symbol of importance. I had so many things to read, to reply to, to decide on. I had this whole virtual history of being important.
But the cost of hoarding this huge pile of past correspondence was a lack of calm and focus.
Just like in my real life, being an email minimalist will take time to become a habit. But the rewards of the practice are proving valuable already.
So from now on, when I feel overwhelmed by email, I’ll remember those three magic words: just click delete.