The tyranny of unread items

A few weeks ago, I decided to do something about the hundreds of unread emails and RSS items staring me in the face every day. Even though I was diligently filtering less important emails and feeds away from my inbox and into sub folders, I was still getting too many “holy smokes! 273 unread items, oh wait it’s just my Swim Cap Fashion News folder” moments. My theory was that even though I was not checking those items very frequently, just seeing the folders bolded and the unread items count nagging me was a adding up to a significant distraction.

Here’s what I did about it:

  • For email, I unsubscribed from every newsletter I could find, I added a bunch more filtering rules to send email that doesn’t require my immediate attention to a subfolder (which also keeps them off my Blackberry), and – most crucially – I started hiding all subfolders from view so I don’t even see anything other than the inbox. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • For RSS feeds, I noted which feeds I was looking forward to reading and then unsubscribed from everything else. I went from 137 to 42 subscriptions. We’ll see how long that lasts.
  • I’ve also changed my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to never send me emails under any circumstances – Facebook has 28 email different settings to turn off! – which probably means I’ll forget to ever check those accounts again.

The end result? It feels like I got back an hour or two of uninterrupted time every day. I know I’m not literally getting that much time back, but the effect of reducing (or simply hiding) my unread items has been clearly noticeable.

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Partner at True Ventures. Team lead at Automattic. Advisor at Atipica, Bandcamp, Bigscreen, Handshake, Hatch Baby, Madefire, Piavita, Renovo Motors, and

3 thoughts on “The tyranny of unread items”

  1. I used to be this way, but I am now able to leave thousands of items unread in Google Reader, without succumbing to that feeling of panic.

    I've even stopped marking all as read.

    I believe I have found Zen in feed-aggregation.

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