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.


We’re nearing the end of a long stretch of houseguests, ranging in age from <1 to >70. I’m glad to have the memories, but I’m also finding that I’m glad to have the new knowledge that comes with inviting people into a space with which I am very familiar and within which I have many well worn routines and habits.

Guests open windows that you have never opened, cook in ways you never would if left to your own devices and kitchen, and sometimes show you exactly how loud your stereo is capable of playing. They pull you into stores in your town that you have walked or driven past a hundred times, they ask familiar clerks unfamiliar questions, and coming in from some quiet time on you back steps, they tell you how beautiful that view — that you’ve simply grown used to — really is.

With those thoughts in mind, I was pleased to see that Reshan Richards jumpstarted his blog today. He’s been a houseguest — in my actual house, yes, but more often in my inbox or Zoom window or telephone — on so many occasions over the past few years, rearranging my mental furniture and helping me to see new uses for old things, and perhaps more important, new things for old uses. He’ll do the same for you.