I love email, I really do. Friends are my religion, and there’s nothing I love more than connecting with them in whatever way I can. I do my banking and shopping online, and I do as much of my business via email as I possibly can.
At some point in the last few years, my inbox turned into the Enemy.
I’m not sure when it happened, but the animosity has been growing. There’s that first initial moment of excitement in the morning when I check for new messages. I read the ones from my friends with glee, delete the crap, and then… the paralysis sets in.
I don’t know why I can’t win this war. I don’t know why I can’t just sit down and answer or deal with all the outstanding emails. I set aside the time, and yet I don’t do it. Messages sit in my inbox, flagged with “Requires action” or “Respond ASAP,” and I don’t answer them.
Please don’t think it has anything to do with the senders. These are some of my favorite people in the world. The inbox uses black magic. It takes an innocent email asking “How are you?” and turns it into a lurking leviathan waiting to attack every time my eye scans the page.
I have emails sitting there for months. Do I eventually answer them all? No, to my great shame, I do not. After about four or five or six months, I build up the strength to hit “Archive” and hope whoever it was I just lost to the inbox war will forgive me.
Last week, when I was describing the war to my friend Sally, she said, “Wait a minute. You archive them? Why don’t you just delete them if you’re not going to answer them?”
Uh… I have no idea.
Today, I made myself go back and look at my email collection. I had archived over 15,000 conversations… somewhere around 50,000-70,000 individual emails… and this just through 2005. I have to go to a different computer to get the earlier ones.
What the hell am I thinking?
I’m thinking that emails are like photographs, and I never throw those out either. I’m thinking each one is special. They document my friendships, provide an easy archive of my life. I might need one of them someday.
It has to stop.
I believe in living simply in a small, uncluttered space, yet I have covered my mind with psychological litter. It’s a mess in there! I have hundreds of emails from people I don’t even talk to anymore. Thousands of emails from past lovers. Hundreds of old World of Warcraft emails, old work emails, old travel itineraries. No wonder my inbox has waged war on me — it’s drowning in the detritus of my past.
My troops are on the move. We’re heading into the archives, and we’re going to carve swathes of sanity out of the madness. Mabye then, robbed of its reinforcements, the inbox will prove more vulnerable to my attacks.
I don’t know if I’ll ever come to love my inbox again; I really wish I could. But right now, I just need to stop losing this war with it.
And, hey. I’m really sorry I haven’t responded to your email. Even if it’s been months. Even if it was something important. I just don’t have any excuses.