Google led the charge for many years to have just one inbox for all email, but I’ve always resisted that trend. Not because it’s sinister for any one service to have all your information (hint: it kinda is), and not because it’s a huge security risk if your only email gets hacked (hint: it totally is), but more because of Alarm Fatigue.
When any message you get in your inbox could be critical, or even just a message from someone you really like and enjoy hearing from, and all messages go to the same inbox, then every message – every newsletter, sales pitch, bank notification, or dentist reminder – becomes urgent. You can’t safely ignore or defer any message, because you never know which ones really matter. And if you’re seeing Unread Message counts, or pop-up alerts, or any other kind of notification, it all starts to blur into a big anxiety-driving flood.
Now, proponents of “One Inbox” might suggest that you can use filters to sort your messages into different buckets of important or not important. In fact, companies like Google and Microsoft have started to try to build smart engines that figure out what is important or not, to counteract the flood of alerting they themselves helped build. But I’ve learned that big companies tend to not know what I care about (#Imnotyourtargetaudience), and not every app you may use for email recognizes or honors those filters – especially if you don’t stick with the apps Google or Microsoft or whomever-your-provider-is gives you. So I prefer a different approach.
When I was working in an office, we used Outlook at my company; and I did have a set of “clever” rules to pre-sort certain kinds of messages into different bucket folders based on how important / urgent they were. (Hint: part of how I accomplished this was using the system I’m about to explain…) And it worked OK, but I still always had a lot of mixed purpose messages to sort through.
In my privately life, for many years I’ve maintained at least two email accounts… one for me personally, and a separate one for my photography. As a freelancer, I’ve added a third that I consider my “professional” identity.
Now, as I’m launching my latest blog efforts with AndAlso.fyi and it’s child sites, I’m adding a few more. See, for me the easiest way to segregate email messages has always been by signing up wherever I may need email with purpose driven accounts. That way, I can judge importance of the alerts from that account by what it’s meant for.
Instagram, Flikr, 500px? Use my photo email.
System monitoring for my website / developer work? Use a dedicated notifications email.
General social media? Use a friendly email
Business / LinkedIn / Consulting? Use a professional email.
Furthermore, this method lets me be selective about not just what emails I choose to look at, but what tools I use to look at them. System monitoring? Doesn’t really need to be on my phone. Business contacts? I can use a dedicated email app just for them, and even limit my use of that app to office hours. Financial institutions? Never check those over insecure public wi-fi.
I know this won’t work for everybody, but for me it’s helped manage my F.O.M.A. (Fear Of Missing Alerts). I always know which alerts are worth checking, and which ones can wait.