A screenshot of a webpage telling you NOT to respond to spam

I halved my incoming email when I stopped fearing the unsubscribe button.

This week  (written 17th June 2015) last year I received 808 emails and replied to 87 of them.  This week I got 484 emails and replied to 78.  I’m using ‘replied to’ as a reasonable proxy for ‘number of emails that required action’, and I think that’s a fair thing to do.
I’ll tell you how I did it shortly, but first I want to talk a little bit about how even that relatively modest drop (I’d already done a lot of pruning over the years) made a big difference.
You are letting your spam validate you
A massive proportion of the emails you receive have NO use. That’s the small part of the the problem. The big part of the problem is that you give them a use. You use them to justify checking you inbox on a ten-minute-basis, or worse, leaving it open.
When you open your email and have three emails to process your reaction is: ‘I’d better deal with those emails, it’s a good job I stopped the productive work I was doing to check my email’.  The thing is, of those three emails, one was from Dominos, one was an newsletter from a club you left years ago and one was a message from Linkedin cajoling you into logging in.
When you have eliminated those things, you are in a different place. You open your email and you have NO new emails, and your reaction becomes ‘that was a waste of time, I should focus more on the things that are important’. So you check in less, break your focus less and do more important real work.
Gmail didn’t work that well
Gmail has an interesting feature that let’s you report things as your own personal spam – personally I found it worked right up until the point where it thought the invitation to interview for a life-changing fellowship was spam.  I’m unsure what else it might have eaten in the past, but maybe it’s worth being slightly less aggressive with the ‘report spam’ button.
A short history… 
For years, nerds, have been howling dire warnings about ‘unsubscribing’.  Don’t do it! We cry, because then the evil spammer puts you on another list, marked ‘active accounts that read their email’ – and then you get even more spam.
A screenshot of a webpage telling you NOT to respond to spam
A screenshot of a webpage telling you NOT to respond to spam
The problem is that this is based on a late 90s view of the world.  I get very little actual spam.  Gmail is pretty good at stopping that at the source.  Sometimes I’ll get a message or two, and then another message the next day, but Google traces the offender and deals with them effectively. Actual Spam is something I see maybe once a month.
What I get instead, is companies, organisations, politicians, and causes.  Some of them I remember giving my email to for some reason, some of them I have never heard of. But, and it’s a big but – these people respect the ‘unsubscribe’ button.
It was a revelation. After years of blankly archiving half my mail I discovered that if you clicked the link (sometimes, it’s tiny, sometimes it’s in a color that matches the background – you know who you are!) then they stop sending you mail.
If you do it for a week, you’ll do it maybe a 100 times, but suddenly you have all this freedom to keep track of the things that are actually important. (we do note, some organisations have a problem with this)

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