Automated Emails: The Yearly Purge

I dug into my professional email today after mainly ignoring it (except for quick “emergency scans”) since my vacation started in earnest on December 22.

As is typical for this time of year, I was able to delete quickly (i.e., without reading) ~half the messages in my untended inbox. They were from accounts that send automated emails to me daily, weekly, monthly, or randomly. This means I either subscribed to the email or someone added me to a list without my permission.

As I delete quickly, I consider slowly the value of these automated communications. Here are the questions I typically ask myself:

  • Did I subscribe to this automated email, and do I read it and derive value from it? (If yes, then I keep the subscription.)
  • Did I subscribe to this automated email, and have I stopped reading it? (This case is more tricky because I might want to continue seeing the automated emails in order to keep a person or organization on my radar. But I’m trying to be more vigilant this year, so I’m cutting out most subscriptions that I haven’t opened or read in the past few months. If they’re worth my attention, I’m guessing, they will find their way back onto my radar.)
  • If I never subscribed to the automated email, I unsubscribe unless the content has been interesting to me. (It takes a lot for me to maintain an “email relationship” with a person or group that added me to a list without first seeking my permission, but I’m not a snob about such things. If I attend your conference, you can consider that permission to continue telling me about the conference in the future. If I subscribe to your newsletter and you want to add me to a new list, that’s fine, too. If we meet in person and have an interesting conversation, I’d love to see your newsletter.)

That whole process takes about 35 minutes and leaves me with the emails in my inbox that can be considered “ill structured,” in that they require more personal attention, more creativity, sometimes more tact. I’ll answer half of them tomorrow and half of them the day after that, which will allow me to head back to work in the new year with a clean inbox.

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