Today I spent the entire day emptying my main work email inbox of all its emails, many of which had lived there for years. Apparently it was last empty around when I got that email in early 2014. I had committed to someone that I would archive anything left in that account without reading it at 10:30 tonight, and thereby give up on getting to it. And I wanted to at least glance at things. The point of all this was to not have the ever-present sense of a giant backlog of things I am supposed to deal with, of which mounds of non-given-up-on emails are one piece. (Another option would be to just give up on everything that was ever pending, but I’m not quite up for it.)

I recorded the time and remaining email count in a spreadsheet as I went along, and watched the expected time to completion at the current rate, to see if it was before or after 10:30pm.

emails graph

It was pretty intense, because most of the time it looked borderline whether I would make it, and tearing through reading a plethora of different things in a race against time for about nine almost consecutive hours is a lot. Overall it was pretty interesting.

Some miscellaneous things on this topic:

  • My sincere apologies to a large fraction of the people who have ever tried to email me.
  • It’s nice to go back and remember the flavors of the different times and the different sets of people who have been around. I look forward to the coming times when mingling with sets of people is back on.
  • I get a fair number of extremely strange emails, for some of which I have trouble constructing any plausible circumstance that might have prompted them.
  • It’s notable how quickly my brain categorizes emails as ‘crankish’ or not. You might think that this would require getting some of the content, but I think a lot of my view on the matter is formed by the time I’ve seen very surface features. Supposing I judge correctly (which seems true if I look at the content, but that could be prejudice), I wonder why there is this strong correlation between content and style.
  • It seems like people have very different norms for length when writing emails. It’s nice that some people think I have so much concentration, reading speed and spare time that I’m going to make it through any five page essay that someone I don’t know sends my way, but it’s not true. The chance for me reading a thing when I get it drops off fast, maybe reaching 50% at around two sentences, unless some good reason to read it has arisen by then. In the past, I mostly left it in my email at that point, for maybe several years, but going forward I think I’m going to try to just give up.
  • I’m not sure if it would have been better to read all these emails at the time. Probably yes, because it would have been good for me to actually respond to people. But this way might have been better experientially.