I was sent to my room last week and told not to come out before the job was finished. To be completely accurate, I sent myself. The job under question was to reduce all my email inboxes to no more than 75 items.
Year ago, when I got my first email address, 75 entries would have seemed a huge number. Years previously, when I started babysitting as a teenager, 75 cents an hour seemed like a lot of money too. At last count, my respective daughters earn or pay up to $15 an hour for babysitting. Times change. I now have three email addresses; one personal and two for work. They fill up frighteningly quickly. Everyone’s email baseline comfort zone differs. Just as for one family, tightening the budget means not taking a summer vacation in Europe while for another family it means walking or taking the bus, one person’s overloaded email box means a few thousand entries while another might blanch at seeing twenty-five unread messages.
Personally, I like to see fewer than 75 items per email address, but especially when I am distracted by important or atypical events going on in our business or personal life, the numbers rapidly increase. Since important or atypical events come about as often as rain in the Northwest (the T-shirt which claims that Seattle’s rainy season runs from January 1st to December 31st isn’t completely accurate, but it rings true all too frequently), I need to delete a few hundred entries before feeling in control.
The easy part is searching for store names and deleting everything which comes up. I really have no need to get daily emails from places at which I shop once or twice a year – or less – but since I pretty much only buy when things are on sale, I like staying in the loop. Since ads also give me some insight into what industry and fashion are doing, I appreciate scanning them. After all, how else is one to know that whalebone corsets went out of style or get clever ideas for wedding gifts? On the work side, various business updates may be unimportant most of the time, but I can’t afford to miss the occasions that an essential item comes in.
Once I get rid of those types of emails the job gets harder. The worst part is finding months’ old messages which went unanswered and sometimes even unread. It is painful to delete correspondence which had it only arrived at a different time, would have merited a response. Aside from feeling silly answering after such a long period of time, there are too many to deal with in this category. A mixture of ruthlessness and guilt activates my finger as it strikes the delete button.
My room exile was not as protracted as this month’s debt negotiations but it engendered similar feelings of futility and exasperation. Fortunately for me, I could send myself out of the room as easily as I could send myself to it. I released myself in time to fill the fridge and welcome three daughters, one granddaughter, one son-in-law and two pending sons-in-law for Shabbat. A few truly wonderful days later as the house empties out, the email reduction scheme stands exposed as a sham. Trimming around the edges without blocking new entries doesn’t yield a great deal of progress. Even boldly clicking on a few “unsubscribe” buttons seems ineffectual. I will only make headway if my marathon session leads to consistent, unrelenting, daily doses of action. I wish I had more confidence that, both in the case of email overload and debt reduction my fellow citizens, my country’s politicians and I will buckle down and follow through.