The Great Unsubscribe

Several weeks ago, I had a realization: I was spending a lot of time deleting email. Every day, I seemed to get dozens of unwanted emails that I deleted unread. This wasn’t pure spam. It was announcements from groups I was no longer part of, emails from companies I’d bought something from years ago, newsletters I’d wound up on somehow, and poorly targeted press releases.

I decided to keep track of the number of such emails as I was deleting them one Friday. By the end of the day, I’d deleted 90 emails, unread. This seemed like a lot. Not because deleting took time (a few seconds per email at most). I realized that the bigger problem was that the high volume of emails meant I always had email when I checked. And that made me check more frequently than was probably wise.

So over the past few weeks I’ve undertaken what I’m calling “The Great Unsubscribe.” Any email that I usually delete unread I have decided to, instead, open and follow the unsubscribe instructions. Most have been pretty clear about how to do this. I’m on a few foreign language newsletters (which I can’t even read! Why are they emailing me??) that I haven’t figured out, but I’m working on it. A few more aggressive emailers have had an unsubscribe link that doesn’t work. The retailers make a pitch to keep you by informing you that you can get emails less often (once a week instead of every single day). In general, I haven’t gone for that, though. I’ve just been unsubscribing away.

Slowly, the deluge is being reduced. A few of the daily email sites schedule things quite a few days ahead of time, so it’s taken more than a week for the emails to stop. But when I woke up the past two mornings, rather than have 40-plus new emails, I have closer to 20.

Will the reduced volume make me more calm or productive? I have no idea. I have a post planned about how I think people are too obsessed with clutter in general. But deleting Victoria’s Secret ads basically every single day was just draining. I’m glad to have that time back — even if it’s only a few seconds.

In other news:

I have a new ebook coming out in less than a month! What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast will be out on June 12. If you blog and would like to review the ebook, please shoot me an email (lvanderkam at yahoo dot com). Thanks!

10 thoughts on “The Great Unsubscribe

  1. I did the same a few months ago. It is wonderful to just get emails that are truly worth my time instead of sifting through a whole bunch of nonsense. I have learned from you to use my time to accomplish my main goals and that goes for email too!

    1. @Denise R – yay! Like I said, I think we put too much emphasis on decluttering (how many Real Simple cover stories can one topic generate?) But reducing the volume of incoming crap is good in any form. I might get off some catalog mailing lists soon too.

  2. I actually have 2 email accounts. One I consider my real account for work and contact with schools and community. The other is mostly for all of the retail emails. Obviously, I check the real one everyday. The other one I only check when I need to (looking for an order confirm) – to keep the stress at bay. There is a bit of overlap . . . (Amazon has made its way into my real account) and it still requires maintenance but not as much.

  3. Every once in a while, I’ll go 24 hours without archiving/deleting any emails. With a one day sample, you can estimate what your daily email burden is, what fraction are of interest and what categories the messages fall into. You can also quantify exactly how much email you’re getting rid of by unsubscribing to lists. I’ve always found this more useful for work email than for personal email.

    1. Hi Dan! That’s sort of what I did (only in a less scientific fashion). Every time I deleted an email unread, I made a hash mark on a piece of paper. At the end of the day, I saw just how bad it was. With a few days of concerted unsubscribing, it does seem to be getting better. But I’m still pondering the potentially Turkish one that sends me like 6 newsletters per day. I have no idea how they got my email address. And it’s so ineffective, since I have no clue what they are telling me!

  4. One of my students did a before-after ttest on unsubscribing on email volume the other year and found that the amount from places that actually took him off the list outweighed the amount from places that used his unsubscribe as a way of guaranteeing his email address.

    About once every two years we try to fight the catalog etc. creep by redoing the do not call list, going through steps to get off catalogs, unsubscribing to things etc. It’s generally in concurrence with a money week or month (in which I try and fail again at getting Ing to transfer my old retirement account to Fidelity, DH calls up companies to ask for discounts, etc.).

    http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/how-to-reduce-unwanted-junk-mailcalls/

  5. I started using more folders so that I deal witih something and then it goes in a folder (is it still live then? or not like are emails in folders still using space) then when I open my inbox it should read like a list of to do s on revenue line.. it takes a bit longer this way but I miss fewer emails that are important by just leaving the ones in my inbox that are important whethe ror not they are !urgent! 🙂
    any other tips?
    I am spending too much time on email at work though

  6. I also have been doing this with catalogues. It’s time consuming at first, but I realized that all these catalogues were taking up my mailbox space, increasing my ‘catalogue processing’ time and tempting me to spend money I don’t have. Some of these companies are very persistant though, I’ve had to call 2 or 3 times.

  7. I’ve been doing the same thing! (Must be something in the cyber-air.) I have a long way to go, but every time I check, I delete two or three, and gradually I think my inbox will be emptier. I think it’s going to help me feel lest distracted overall, and that will be worth the few seconds investment of time to unsubscribe.

  8. I’ve been working on the same thing. Somehow it felt like a grand revelation when I realized I could save myself a few seconds of frustration by taking just a few more seconds to unsubscribe, even though it was a pretty obvious step. It’s freeing!

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