Skip to main content

Starting fresh

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, Overcommitment, Email

With the start of the new year, I’ve been trying to give myself a clean slate. I’ve once again declared inbox bankruptcy [1]. I’ve dusted off my to-do list manager [2] and thrown away most of the items on my lists so that I can start fresh. Where did things stand?

Some months ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I set up rules to automatically move things out of my inbox for viewing later. Those included the too-many advertisements and too-many newsletters I get. I had thought that I’d check them once a day or once a week, but I find that I mostly ignore them. That’s probably good. It also likely means that I can unsubscribe from most of them. But there were also some problems with the filters; I’ll describe them later.

I’ve been less successful at keeping the inbox clean. I’ve tried, but clearly not hard enough. Six months have passed since I last declared bankruptcy. In that time, I’ve accumulated about 8,700 messages in my inbox, 3,450 of which I did not manage to read. What kinds of things are sitting in my list of unread messages? Something from Uber. Why do I get email from Uber? Something from HackerRank. I should probably set up a filter for that. A message I received twice but only read once. A bunch of messages to the racket-users mailing list. I thought I’d been keeping those cleaned out. I guess not. A bunch of messages to the SIGCSE mailing list. Since I see most of those when I approve the messages, I don’t always look at them again.

Thirty minutes of looking at the unread messages, and I’m pretty much convinced that there’s a reason I don’t read my unread messages. Nonetheless, I need to learn to delete them as they come in so that I don’t miss any important messages.

What about those boxes that automatically received email? The newsletters box has about 4,200 messages. Those include the automatic messages from Facebook [3], Twitter, and LinkedIn, my daily notices from Portside Navigator, and a few other things. I was going to unsubscribe to most of these, and then I noticed a few of value near the top, such as an article on Howard Zinn. So, I guess I’ll let them keep accumulating and I’ll dig through them once in a while [4].

The advertisements box has about 4,000 messages. Most of those can probably be cleaned out. I’d planned to scan it regularly, but I don’t really need to look at ads or buy things. I use it primarily so that I can quickly check for coupons and such when I plan to order things.

But I also learned that it’s important to choose filter rules correctly. I was sending everything from Amazon to the advertisements box. It turns out that that meant that (a) I did not notice messages from Amazon sellers when there was a problem and, more importantly, (b) I didn’t get security messages from AWS when a student cleverly posted our AWS key on a public repository [5]. It also meant that I didn’t see some auto-pay notices, such as those I get from GoDaddy. So I’m filtering a bit less than I used to.

My final email bankruptcy task was to move all of the messages from my inbox to a bankruptcy box. I had, of course, forgotten that and Exchange don’t play well with each other. So, although knew that it had moved the messages, Outlook 365 still saw them. Strangely enough, the mail app on my iPhone didn’t. So I got to spend too much time moving 100 or so messages at a time on Outlook 365. Eventually I reached the goal of inbox zero on all platforms.

Since January 4 (all of four days), I’ve been keeping my inbox empty and using my task manager. That doesn’t get either of my offices or my lab organized, let alone my electronic life [6]. But it’s a start.

Next up: Finishing my class prep. I also hope that I’ll have the time and energy to start musing again.

What else? Oh, yeah, this musing was about starting fresh in my email and such. I should probably work on processes that will help keep me up to date with the inbox and the to-do list. Perhaps I’ll finally manage to read Getting Things Done.

[1] To some people, that means deleting everything in their inbox. In my case, it means putting everything in my inbox in a separate archive so I can still find it later.

[2] I use Todoist. I am not a power user.

[3] I thought I was set for only important notifications, but perhaps Facebook and I differ on what is important.

[4] That’s a good Todoist task. Clean through newsletters every Saturday.

[5] It’s clear that we need to change the way we deal with AWS for CSC 324 projects.

[6] Would the equivalent of inbox bankruptcy for my office be a freight container that I moved everything in my office into? That seems complicated.

Version 1.0 of 2019-01-04.