Distracted Living, Tech

My efforts to get control of my email through filters

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gmailI get too much email. Yes, I’m not alone in this — many of us are deluged by email. But over the past several years, I’ve becoming increasingly fed up with the email cramming my inbox. I either avoid it, or I stare at it and think, “How can I ever get through this?” It feels like a to-do list that I never created. It just happened.

My solution? Filter messages. Ruthlessly.

There’s nothing novel about creating filters to get a handle on email. People have done this for years. I even wrote a column on email filters and how to use them, back in 2006. And while I created filters for myself years ago, within Gmail, I decided about a month ago to take my filters even further — much, much further — in an effort to avoid having anything other than personal messages in my inbox.

That’s right: I want only email from people, preferably friends and colleagues, in my inbox. No bills. No appointment reminders. Nothing but personal messages in my inbox.

To do this, I used Gmail’s filtering tools (and its labels) to filter messages into folders (well, Gmail calls them labels) with names like “meetups,” “events,” “linked-in,” “facebook,” “reminders-etc,” and so forth.

This is, admittedly, a way to ignore things by avoiding looking at them.

And it’s working for me.

It’s relatively simple to do, especially if you decide, over the course of a month or so, to filter any and every message that comes into your inbox that is not a personal message. That means you don’t avoid the message. You don’t delete it. You filter it. Yes, that’s right: Leave it in your inbox until you’ve created a filter for it.

And Gmail makes creating filters quite easy. I usually filter things by the sender, but sometimes I do it by content appearing in the message. There’s one feature I really like: If you go to Gmail’s settings, and then to Labels, you’ll see that you’re able to set things up so that you only see the folders on your Gmail homepage when you have new/unread email (just select the “show if unread” option for the label from Settings > Labels). I like that quite a bit, largely because it allows me to ignore things unless there are unread messages. And I don’t even see the messages unless I select the folder. What’s more, when I look at email on my iPhone, I don’t see any of those messages — that is, the messages in folders — because I just look at my inbox.

The upshot? My email is under control. Right now, it’s got just three messages in there — two from my wife, another from a photography publication looking for writers.

Distracted Living, Tech

Do I send a text? An email? Make a phone call? Coping with Appropriate Communication Syndrome (ACS)

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I recently wrote a column about what I labeled Appropriate Communication Syndrome (ACS). Here’s my definition:

It is the condition of being uncertain about the appropriate way to contact and communicate with another individual. The condition is sometimes accompanied by confusion, social anxiety, an inability to act and self-questioning. Certain individuals appear immune from the syndrome, and consequently communicate with excessive frequency.

I’m sure you’re familiar with this phenomenon. (By definition, blog readers suffer from ACS.) You want to contact someone, but then you start to think: Should I send email? A text? Or would Facebook be better? Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from a high school friend — I sent her an email about getting together — and I’m realizing a phone call might be better. But it’s hard to keep track of this, what with our communications preferences shifting all the time. As I say in the column, “Before the internet, there was the phone. The main issue was whether or not to leave a message on someone’s answering machine. That was it.”

Things sure have gotten a lot more complicated.


I love the way Priority Inbox hides my email


I’ve been using a recently introduced Gmail feature, Priority Inbox, to help me sort my email, and I’m really into it. Here’s the thing: I get a lot of email, like everyone else, and I’m often distracted by it. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I feel like email’s running me life. Rather than deciding I need to do X, Y, or Z, I check my email, and let my email dictate what I’ve got to do. Of course, deadlines drag me out of my inbox and into the much more enjoyable world of actual writing, but you probably know what I mean: It’s very, very easy to use your email as a sort of shadow to-do list.

And so, the beauty of Priority Inbox: It hides email that’s not important. Now, it’s not a complete solution to being inundated with email (or feeling like you are), but it’s a step in the right direction in the way it makes it easier (at least for me) to ignore some of my email, in a productive way, and do the things I really need or want to do.

Here’s a video with more info: