On curating a quality email inbox

My perspective on inbox hygiene plus a collection of my favorite newsletters

Joe Caron
Sep 9 · 6 min read

I remember getting my first “adult” email address during my sophomore year of college. The idea that I owned a tiny mailbox next to the superhighway of the ever-growing internet was the coolest thing ever. I quickly explored every setting and profile customization to prepare for the coming years of email traffic.

A lot has changed in 10 years. I learned that there’s much about being a functioning adult that people don’t teach you, especially about using the digital tools and services that society requires. An email inbox is one of them.

Today my inbox is a sacred space. I view it as a very personal collection of content, specifically intended for my eyes and attention. Over the years, I’ve made great strides to protect it from unwanted advertisements, unsolicited subscriptions, and messages from unknown senders. It now acts as a daily newspaper I turn to for information, inspiration, and connection to loved ones.

“If it’s marked as Unread, I’m reading it.”

– Me

To celebrate the 10th birthday of my email address (woot! 🎉), I want to share my perspective on inbox hygiene and the collection of newsletters I’ve curated that is worthy of my routine attention. I hope you enjoy!

🧘‍ Inbox Zero — The Email Nirvana

It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That ‘zero?’ It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.

– Merlin Mann (coined the phrase “Inbox Zero”)

First thing’s first. Without an end goal in mind, it’s easy to lose focus and thus control over an unwieldy inbox. There are many opinions around the “Inbox Zero” framework, but for me, it works. It serves as the optimal state of the email experience where every item that arrives is worthy of my attention. This foundation is the nirvana I strive to maintain. When I live life by Inbox Zero:

  • I treat my email queue as a task list and reading list.
  • I don’t need any folders.
  • Those unread badges actually mean something! 😱

More information about Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero and his suggested email management tips here.

❌ The How: Unsubscribe

Facing an insurmountable amount of subscribed newsletters and publications can be daunting. Not only does archiving and deleting unwanted emails take time, but it also doesn’t get to the root cause. You must unsubscribe!

There are plenty of resources to help combat an inbox overflowing with chaos. Tools like Unroll.me are great to help bulk unsubscribe and get things under control. Though I now manage my subscriptions manually, these tools were a real game-changer at the beginning!

✅ The Why: Subscribing is inviting

Subscribing to newsletters and publications is inviting them to your doorstep. Every time you give your email, you provide the address to that little mailbox by the superhighway. After so much effort tending to a healthy inbox, be very careful to whom you provide that address.

Subscribe with intention. Too many emails per day can quickly overwhelm, requiring more energy to consume and reducing the integrity of the whole. Quality newsletters are not overloaded with articles but have the perfect balance of content that informs and inspires. Finding that balance of quality and quantity is key.

Don’t forget that any subscriptions compete with actual human beings trying to say hello!

👀 The Now What: Maintenance

Like a manicured garden, upkeep requires investment. Once you have control over what you’re subscribed to, be vigilant! Whenever a foreign invader lands in my inbox, I am quick to jump to the bottom to find that (sometimes hidden) “Unsubscribe” link.

Fighting entropy requires energy. Protect your sacred space!

😌 The End Result: A personally-curated collection of meaningful content

Today, I am satisfied not only with the controlled state of my inbox but the collection of newsletters I’ve decided is worth my attention each week. Sure they may not be the most comprehensive or well-known, but they’re now part of my routine and my own personal newspaper.

Medium Daily Digest
Stories for Members (being a member is kewl)

Edith Yeung’s Silicon Valley Weekly Funding News
Funding & M&A news in Silicon Valley.

Kenny Chen’s UX Design Weekly
A curated list of the best user experience design links every week by Kenny Chen.

Product Hunt Weekly
A weekly digest of the best of Product Hunt, covering new products in tech.

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox E-Mail Newsletter
The latest articles about interface usability, website design, and UX research from the Nielsen Norman Group.

What’s the Difference?
A newsletter for the curious & confused.

Where business and design collide. From Fast Company.

News, culture, and current events coverage for the LGBTQ Community.

It’s Nice That
The week’s most popular posts from It’s Nice That, championing creativity across a wide range of disciplines.

Worn & Wound
Watch Reviews, News, and Guides.

Google Design Newsletter
Articles, news, and events from Google Design.

EL CHAMP Life Manual
A queer and gay health, fitness, wellness, and personal development magazine.

Emoji Wrap 🌯
A bite-sized summary of what’s happening in the world of emoji.

Kickstarter Invent
Inventive projects, behind-the-scenes stories, and bold ideas from the world of Design and Tech on Kickstarter.

Let’s not forget about the local entertainment and classified ads! They include routine updates from my favorite music venues, brands, and organizations. It’s just as important to keep up with your local community as it is the broader industry.

With all the potential threats of email hacking, privacy breaches, and identity theft, maintaining a tidy inbox is one thing within our control that has a big impact on internet hygiene and safety. But to do so requires a shift in mindset.

I log into my email every day. Tools that are used every day should be carefully selected and optimized for efficiency. By removing pain points and causes of irritation in a daily routine, you can spend energy on more important things. Keeping an email inbox that’s organized, supervised, and safe from disorder is a simple thing that makes a big difference.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please take the time to 👏👏👏. Any questions or comments are welcome below. You can find this article and a few others at www.joecaron.com.

Joe Caron

Written by

Joe Caron

UX Designer at @DesignMap in San Francisco. Passionate about usability, efficiency, and continual learning. | www.joecaron.com | 🚲🌯📱🌉♻️🍦🏳️‍🌈✨

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