I’ve been noticing something these days. Any time I see someone else’s home screen on their phone, they have a badge on their email app. The number on the badge is always something greater than 3500. That’s a lot of unread messages! It also seems to be the standard these days, and that makes me nervous.
What are the possibilities here?
They read and respond to all their mail, then mark it Unread
...because having a high number makes them feel loved and special
Inbox is full of irrelevant junk
...and the number is therefore meaningless
Inbox is entirely full of important messages
...and the number represents power and influence
Inbox is a mix of some important messages and a lot of junk
...and the number represents existential despair
Why 3500? That would be not quite 10 unread messages a day for a year.
What if one of them is extremely interesting and important??
Once upon a time, I was a corporate trainer. My job was to go around and teach people how to use the new email system. It was easier in those days, because junk mail usually stopped at the firewall, and almost everything that came through had an actual business purpose.
The rest of y’all are on your own!
My own mail is probably 20% important, 5% junk that made it through the filters, 5% coupons I generally disregard, and 70% newsletters or aggregations of articles. I spend a few minutes every day unsubscribing from at least half a dozen sources of fresh hell, flagging junk, clicking relevant links, and moving stuff to my ‘Read at Leisure’ folder. As a result, my inbox stays pretty manageable.
Also, I turned off my badge.
I hate badges.
Why would I need a notification to remind me to check a folder that I look in a couple of times a day? It’s not like I’m going to forget.
My rule on badges is: NO
I only have a notification or a badge on something if I really need a reminder and I wouldn’t check otherwise. For instance, I can go days without getting a text message. Otherwise, I get into a situation where even looking at my phone makes me want to avoid it.
Many of these badges come from apps that want a response that serves them, not me. For instance, my vet just sent a request for a review. I might do that to be nice, but I don’t owe them, and as a policy I’m not going to give a review for every single product or service, even though they all ask. Some of them will ask three times or more. Check your email because a lot of it is going to be this type of request!
Or, don’t check your email. Ever.
I think it’s fair to simply not have an email, or not use it, and tell people that. Just delete the whole thing!
At least, that’s true of a personal email. I once worked with a man who refused to accept a paycheck and insisted on receiving his pay in cash. It was complicated and annoying but he actually got away with it. Therefore it’s plausible that someone might be able to throw down an email embargo at work. If that’s the fight you want to be known for, have fun.
I have a voicemail message that says my phone reception is really bad (it is) and to just text or email me and I’ll call back. It seems to work. This is a better solution than the many times I’ve been sitting in my living room, waiting on a call, and my phone never rings, which is sad when I’m holding it in my hand and staring at it expecting my hubby to call on business travel.
Ironically I can only really get phone calls when I’m not home.
Is this the problem with email, though? Is it a problem of being accessible to people we want to hear from? Or is it something else?
I suspect the majority of mail that is blocking people’s inboxes is actually commercial in nature. It’s daily coupons and sales alerts from a multitude of sources. Every store and restaurant and website will offer some kind of discount, or just ask for an email, with the sole purpose of these daily bombardments. It goes like this:
“Please let us reach you by email, sending you so many messages that your inbox therefore becomes nonfunctional and you don’t even see them.”
This is what’s going on when I unsubscribe from things every day.
I was on daily mailing lists for stores where I actually do shop on a regular basis. I unsubscribed from all of them, every single one! What am I missing?
Say I get a 20% coupon once a year and I spend it on a $100 item. I’ve saved $20, except that half of it goes toward sales tax. Is this worth the drain on my attention every single day? Is it worth not being able to use my email inbox? For the equivalent of 3 cents a day?
But then I virtually never use coupons of any kind because I don’t feel that they are even remotely worth my mental bandwidth. That’s not how my husband and I save half our income.
I would ask any extreme couponer who adores coupons but has a constantly full email inbox:
How’s that working out for you?
Are you getting promoted at work?
Are you organized and stress-free at home?
Are you debt-free?
Are you saving and investing?
Could you be getting a 100x return on your time and attention by focusing on other things?
If you really want to carry around 3500 emails telling you about sales that have already passed, knock yourself out. If that isn’t the reason your inbox is so full, then why? If you can figure out the root cause, then you can fix it.
Stuff you want to read? Guess what, you aren’t reading that much and the entire internet will still be there tomorrow.
Heartfelt personal letters demanding your response? Looks like maybe you don’t really feel the same way about that person? If you really care, ask them to communicate with you a different way.
Important business messages that need your attention? Change careers, ask your boss to switch to Slack or have stand-up meetings, negotiate for an assistant, or ask the I.T. person to help you set up some filters.
Having an extremely full email inbox with a big badge on it is a little weird. It’s like having a physical mailbox stuffed with coupon circulars when you can’t find your bills. It’s like carrying around a duffel bag full of laundry all day. It’s like filling your fridge with dead leaves. It’s like coaxing a flock of pigeons into your living room. It’s like...
It’s like a blip on the cultural radar that will soon pass, because what’s happening right now doesn’t work for most people.
If your email inbox makes me nervous, I’m sure email marketers are noticing too. Time for a change.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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