Declaring Digital Amnesty

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I think we've all felt it before: that oppressive feeling when the number of items in your inbox, tabs on your browser or articles in your RSS Feed Reader becomes overwhelming.  These are, effectively, items on your mental to-do list (because, let's face it, we never put these on our actual to-do lists as that would be overwhelming in itself).

We live in an age of digital excess.  But we don't have to let it control us.  We can declare amnesty!

The idea of declaring amnesty on your digital self isn't my idea; it's been floating around out there in the ether for years.  However, it's a pretty simple (although perhaps mentally challenging) idea to implement. 

Here's how you do it: Just delete (or archive) it all.  You'll feel a momentary twinge of guilt, and then a deep sense of relief.  More specifically:

  • Browser Tabs: This is probably the easiest place to start.  Simply close your browser or delete the tabs one by one (but don't look at them, just do it!) for all of the articles you thought looked interesting, but just don't have the time to read.
  • RSS Reader: Just click on "Mark All As Read" and begin anew.  (Or do this category by category if you don't want to delete it all.)
  • Email: This one is tough, and I'm not going to recommend that you do this with your work email (unless this is an accepted practice at your workplace) since I don't want to get you in trouble.  BUT, if your personal email has gotten out of control and you just can't deal, just archive everything that's unread.  And if it makes you feel better add an auto-reply that let's people know what you've done, why, and that if you haven't responded to something they need a response on, to email you again.

Some variations:

  • If you aren't ready for full email amnesty (and full disclosure: I may never be), then you may consider National Email Debt Forgiveness Day, where, once a year, you can simply reply to all those emails that you delayed replying to for so long that eventually you became too embarrassed to reply at all.
  • I even recently applied this idea in my physical life.  I threw out a giant stack of magazines I was planning to read "at some point".  Did I miss some great content?  For sure.  But we're not exactly experiencing a drought in the content department.  And I don't expect that to change any time soon.  I like to think to myself that if there was some content I missed that was important for me to consume, it'll somehow wind up back on my radar again in the future.

Preventative Care:

Let's also think for a moment about why we are in this position in the first place and what we can do about it.  Here are just a few tips you can implement now (and on an on-going basis) to slow the onslaught:

  • Unsubscribe Immediately: Every time you get an email that you don't want, click the unsubscribe link right then and there.
  • If you're noticing that you're not getting much out of content from a specific source, remove it from your RSS Reader so that no new content from that source arrives.
  • Think hard about whether you should "Open Link in New Tab".  Is the tab you are opening important enough to you that you will really make time to read it later?  Perhaps just the headline gives you the info you need.  If that's the case, don't even open the link in the first place.

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