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.

Published by

Toni Schneider

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

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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