Why I am afraid of email and what I did about it


I’m afraid of email. I had a bad experience. I couldn’t answer the nearly 10,000 emails that had accumulated in my inbox.

The year was 2010. Or was it 2011. I can’t actually remember now. But the thing that happened was that I had a baby. Well, what I mean is that my wife had a baby. Our third. We’ll actually our fourth. We lost one along the way you see, but that will have to wait for another blog post some other time.

Having babies is not something that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s a process fraught with difficulties of every sort imaginable. And some you just can’t imagine unless you’ve been there and done that.

What this has to do with email is that the fallout from having a baby basically put me behind by at least a year. We spent a month in hospital with the new baby when the little tyke was born. He had complications and was born prematurely. He’s all good now. In fact, he’s just turned two.

It was a crappy time and I’m glad he’s much bigger. In fact, I can’t wait until he’s at least 4 or 7 or even 12.

But, by golly… it took me a year (or two) to recover from the emails. I just ignored the emails while all the drama was going on. And then I never caught up. And the emails just piled up.

As a result I grew to hate my inbox, hate Outlook, and generally fear emails because I knew that I would never be able to answer them. By Christmas 2011 I had nearly 10000 unread, unanswered emails in my inbox. Whoops… Some of them were probably important. Sorry if that was you…

It was making me depressed and I wasn’t enjoying my work. Here’s what I did to redeem the situation.  I had downloaded LifeHacker on Kindle and there was this great chapter on Gmail. There’s an online version you can read here. 

So…

  • I bought a new computer. My old computer was due for replacement so I made the switch from being a windows guy to being a Mac guy. That’s another story too, but I’ve had my MacBook Air for 6 months now and I’ll never go back. I’m not sure it’s relevant but it seemed important at the time.
  • I switched to Gmail. I already had a Gmail but I wasn’t really using it and it had a stupid user name so I got a brand new Gmail account set up with a more sensible username.
  • I started again. I allowed myself to say goodbye to all the old emails in Outlook on my old computer. I’ve kept them around for six months and referred to a about a dozen of them. Soon I’m going to delete the hard drive and everything on that computer.
  • I did it at the start of the new year. I live in New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere. That means we kind of start everything again in the new year every year  including the academic year. That’s perfect for me because I work in education.
  • I directed all my email addresses to the new Gmail. I don’t even know how I did this now, but it worked. There were some instructions in the Life Hacker chapter but I got some other help from Google. Now, the five email aliases that I use all point to Gmail. And I can send from Gmail using any of my other email aliases including the business domain email addresses.
  • I turned on Gmail’s Priority Inbox. I love this feature. Basically, it learns who I respond to. Anyone important goes to the top. All the other dross goes to the bottom. Basically, if you want to email me you have to be able to get into my priority inbox.
  • I unsubscribed to everything. It’s hard to do because people and robots keep subscribing me to stuff, but I keep unsubscribing as fast as I can.
Now, I don’t exactly love my email, but it’s a damn sight better than it used to be. Currently (today right now), I have no emails that are categorized as Important and Unread. There’s a bunch of unimportant ones that fall off the bottom but I don’t care about those.
Now, I’m not exactly a Gmail ninja, but the main thing is that I feel happy and sane because I’m in control of my freaking email.
Now the telephone, that’s a different story:

Email is fine… It’s the telephone that the harbinger of doom. What could be so terrifyingly urgent that could not be covered in a concise email or brief txt message.*

* Quote from my graphic designer, close friend, and younger brother…

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