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October 25, 2010 » 9:35 am

The Dreaded Email Backlog

Got back from my vacation to Korea yesterday afternoon. Here’s my quick summary of the trip: Aaah.

Other than some massive jetlag, I feel very refreshed. I’ve had to hit the ground running since returning because of the usual work pileup and also a business trip later this week. Although I would have loved a few days to transition back to real life, I feel great, and I’m happy to be back.

I took over 2,000 pictures and almost 40 videos, and I filled up almost 100 pages in my manly journal. I have many, many stories to share, both about my experiences in Korea as well as other stuff I had a chance to think about.

But I first want to kick things off by running some numbers on the Dreaded Email Backlog. Amazingly, it wasn’t bad at all, which raises serious questions as to why I (and others) don’t do this more often. It’s a little after 9am on Monday morning, and I’m largely caught up on my email (although the work backlog still beckons).

After two weeks of not checking my work email, I had 202 new messages in my inbox (not counting filtered messages). 14 of those messages were vacation-related bounces, 18 were automatic notifications from the Blue Oxen server (which needs a tune up), and about 40 were newsletters that should have been filtered. There were about another 25 web site notifications that should have been filtered; I just had never gotten around to setting the rules.

Cleaning these up got me down to 100 messages. I used this as an opportunity to fix my filters, and I ended up unsubscribing to 12 newsletters. A quick scan and cleanup cut my inbox in half to about 50 messages. Then I got down to work.

I used Gmail’s Priority Inbox to help. Prior to my trip, I didn’t really use this feature, but with a huge inbox, I was curious to see if it would be helpful. Not so much. I had about 60 messages automatically labeled priorities. About 30 of them were mislabeled, and 10 messages in my inbox should have been labeled, but weren’t.

Working through my inbox took me about five hours. Now that my filters have been updated, it should be much easier in the future. Plus, I realized I was subscribed to way more newsletters than I needed to be, and so taking the effort to unsubscribe will help a lot as well.

All in all, dealing with the backlog was relatively painless. Was this representative? Preparation helped a lot — I put a serious dent on my email backlog before I left. I’m also finishing up one project and starting up two new ones, so the email load isn’t as high as it would be if I were mid-project.

My experience served to reinforce several things:

  • The best way to manage information overload is to reduce the load. Do a careful audit. You’ll be surprised how much junk you’re probably receiving.
  • Filtering is your friend.
  • The world will not collapse if you are not checking email constantly.

More importantly, you will feel significantly better if you take time to get away. I’m going to be a lot more disciplined about having “off” time in my day-to-day life.

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One Response to “The Dreaded Email Backlog”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eugene Eric Kim, Anne Zender. Anne Zender said: I liked 'The world will not collapse if you are not checking email constantly' RT @eekim: The Dreaded Email Backlog http://j.mp/94TLCW […]

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