A love note to 15,000 emails (1/2 unread)

published21 days ago
4 min read

My classes start on Tuesday, so I’ve spent the last few days doing one of my favorite late-August activities:

Cleaning out my email inbox of its 15,000 emails.

Here’s my system: I copy them all (in many batches) and drag them to a new folder labeled “Archive 2022 – 2023”.*

It’s not a perfect system. 😂

But I do start the semester with an empty inbox, which I love. It’s a gift I give myself.

Every year I read articles on how to better manage email. I plan to set aside 15 minutes at the end of each day to get to inbox zero.

It's been 30 years and it still hasn’t happened. It works for about 10 days and then I’m back to my full humanness, in all its imperfection.

I’m an optimist, but I accept that it may never happen. I may never become a person who ends every day at inbox zero.

The truth is, I prioritize other things above inbox zero. My family. Friends. My podcast. Sometimes sleep. Often TV.

Judging myself for not getting to inbox zero hasn’t helped. Hitching my sense of self to the number in my inbox hasn’t helped. Neither lets me enjoy my life more.

What helps is loving myself where I am, which includes my treasure trove of archived emails. Dragging them to their new home, I was reminded of all that I did last year, and the emails that tell the story. And it made me love those emails. Truly. Those emails encouraged students, made plans to meet colleagues, solved programs. They created partnerships and helped others.

They are my life, just like the socks I leave on the floor by my desk, or the books piled up by my chair in the living room. The pens, post-it notes, eye drops, even the junk mail I haven’t yet tossed. All of it is my life and I just want to love it.

My fantasy of inbox zero keeps me from loving my life right now, from loving myself as I am in all my perfectly human imperfectness.

If I want to change my relationship to my daily emails, I can start from where I am rather than a perfectionist fantasy. I may never be a person whose inbox is always empty at the end of the day, but right now, I can be a person who loves herself and her life. And, if I want, I can see the vast terrain between 15,000 emails and inbox zero. Maybe I want to be a person who regularly has 1,000 emails in her inbox, but not more. Maybe I want to be someone who archives her emails monthly, rather than yearly. Letting go of the perfectionist fantasy helps me see all that is possible, right now.

Do you have habits you judge yourself for, habits you hide from others? Maybe you love your CSA and its deliveries of rutabaga but stress eat Doritos late at night. Maybe you care deeply about the environment but passionately love your Nespresso (those little pods!). Maybe you regularly pay your phone bill late, even though you have the money in the bank.

What if none of it is a problem?

What if we just love ourselves where we are?

That love is what helps us to change our habits, if we want to – because we change not to earn love, not to be better humans, but just because we want to.

I’m not sure I want to embrace inbox zero; it doesn’t feel that important to me. But I do want to get better at deleting unnecessary emails when I see them. So that’s my plan and it feels very do-able. Delete more emails and then, once a month, put the remaining emails in a folder labeled Archive 2023-2024. Next year, perhaps I’ll have a different plan but this one feels right for where I am, now.

This week, remind yourself that your habits aren’t a problem, unless you decide they are. We humans are perfect in all our imperfection. If your habits are a problem for you, see if you are measuring yourself against a perfectionist fantasy. Look for all the possibilities that might serve you better, fueled by self-kindness & love. ❤️

Letting go of my fantasy of inbox zero actually made me better at managing my emails, because it let me see more clearly what is do-able for me. This is one of the paradoxes of self-growth, the topic of this week's podcast.

Episode #66: 3 paradoxes of self growth

I've been reading self-development books since I was in high school -- and you know, some of their advice is contradictory. Focus on the present! Have goals for the future! Listen to your gut! Plan with your pre-frontal cortex! What's a person committed to self-growth to do?

That's the topic of this week's podcast. In this episode:

⭐ How paradoxes affect us, even if we never think about them

⭐ The 3 most common paradoxes that keep us stuck

⭐ How to get unstuck from paradoxes by using our brain and our body

Paradoxically, seeing something as a paradox helps our brain to stop trying to figure it out. Take a listen and let me know what resonates for you.

Love, Rachel

* P.S. You might be thinking, "Why label the folder Archive 2022 - 2023? You can just put everything in one archive and use the search function." This is correct, but it doesn't make my brain happy. My brain, developed before computers, likes the visual of separate folders with the date. And there's no reason not to make my brain happy. This too is a gift I give myself.

⭐ I love being connected to you ⭐

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Rachel Baum

I'm a life coach, college professor, and former president of the Overthinkers Club. I also host the Making Midlife Magic podcast. I love helping middle aged people dream again and create lives they love.

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