Do a blog search for bankruptcy, and most of the stories you will find will have to do with e-mail bankruptcy. This colorful term doesn’t mean what it meant just three years ago. Then, it would probably refer to abandoning an e-mail account because you were receiving too many irrelevant e-mail messages. Now it refers to erasing your e-mail inbox because you have more legitimate e-mail messages that you can realistically read.
Wired offers a how-to in its archive, from Lawrence Lessig. In brief:
- Collect the email addresses of everyone you haven’t replied to.
- Write a polite note explaining your predicament.
- Ask for a resend of anything particularly pressing.
I should note that that is the polite, businesslike way of doing it. The process has become so common this year that you might just get a text message from someone saying, “I’m declaring e-mail bankruptcy.” If you get that message, it means they want you to write to them again if there is something you want them to pay attention to.
With 5,000 messages in your in-box and no time to read them, e-mail bankruptcy might be your only option. The proactive approach, though, is to adjust your comfort zone so that you respond before even 500 messages pile up — and to approach e-mail with a new kind of boldness that lets you quickly delete messages that, while they might be mildly interesting, really aren’t important to you.
This is the kind of boldness I write about in chapter 10 of Fear of Nothing. It comes from knowing what you want in life — or at least acting as if you will know pretty soon. The trivia of life, whether it takes the form of TV shows, gossip, or e-mail, won’t distract you nearly as much if you approach life with the attitude of boldness that comes from believing you have a purpose. You’ll be able to keep up with your e-mail by disposing of most of it quickly, and you’ll be able to keep up with your life by focusing on the best opportunities you can think of, and not giving a second thought to the lesser opportunities that pass you by.