Killing Email: How and Why I Ditched My Inbox

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

I’ve declared independence from email.

After more than 15 years of dealing with email, of checking email multiple times a day, of responding over and over throughout the day, of deleting spam and unsubscribing from newsletters and unwanted notices, of filtering out messages and notifications, of deleting those dumb forwarded jokes and chain mails …

I’m done.

It feels so good to say those words! It’s so liberating to break free from my inbox!

I’m done, because email takes up too much of my time. I’m done, because I don’t like being at the mercy of every incoming request, because I would rather spend my free time creating than replying to emails.

I could go much further into explanations, but I think you get the point. I’ll let others argue the point for me — a number of people have talked about and experimented with killing email … here are just a handful:

How I Ditched My Email Inbox

I’m actually experimenting with this over the next couple of weeks, phasing out email instead of ditching the inbox immediately. But the transition has already started, and I think by the end of today, I’ll be able to stop checking email entirely, or once a week at most.

Here’s what I’m doing:

1. I’ve set up an autoresponder for my email that explains what I’m doing and how to contact me and for what reasons. I know, I hate autoresponders too, but I’m hoping people will get tired of seeing the autoresponder and stop sending me emails. I’m curious what will happen if someone sends me a vacation autoresponder, and then my autoresponder goes back to them, and theirs goes back to me, and so on for infinity. Anyway, I’ve set up a filter with a few keywords so those who want to advertise or do a few specific things can still get through to my inbox. I’ll discuss those below.

2. Twitter will be my main form of communication. I know, not everyone uses Twitter, but the people I communicate with the most are (mostly) on Twitter. What I love about Twitter is that it’s very limited (140 characters), so you have to keep things brief, and also there isn’t the expectation that you’ll respond to every message, as there is in email. Friends can DM me on Twitter for personal communication.

3. For longer conversations, there’s IM or Skype chats. These will be required to be scheduled, and are for friends, interviews or close colleagues only — you’ll have to DM me on Twitter, and we’ll set up a 10-minute chat. I won’t schedule too many of these (like one per day at the most, probably) and again they’ll be limited to 10 minutes. This is much more effective than email for complex discussions.

4. For collaboration, I’ll use Google Docs and/or wikis. I’m looking into whether wikis are necessary or desirable. It might be that I just use Google Docs, which have worked great for me so far. Still, maybe a wiki would be good for holding an entire project together. At any rate, collaborative online software is much more effective for working on a project with others than email is.

5. Friends and family can call me. Especially if they don’t use Twitter. They already do, actually, so email isn’t absolutely necessary. The phone is better for personal communication anyway.

6. A few types of emails will get through for now. My filters allow emails for advertisers, interviews, refunds, and people who want to hire me, to get through to my inbox. I’ll be checking this once in awhile (every 2-3 days), but I’m working on automating these processes via the web — people would get a link to schedule an interview with me, or a page to buy an ad, or do a refund, etc. This will eliminate the need for these emails.

I think this will work, but we’ll see. It’s possible that within a couple of weeks, I’ll return to email. I’m always willing to experiment, to try new things, to find the method of working and living that works best for me.

Will it work for you? Perhaps not. If you get a lot out of using email, don’t stop just because I am. Do what works for you — as for me, I’ll be focusing more on creating, and less on processing.

Frequently Asked Questions

A few questions I’ve been getting so far:

Q: Why so extreme? Why not just filter and check email less often?

A: I’ve tried a number of tactics with email, including extreme filtering. For awhile I set up a special email address for friends and family and close colleagues, and everything else was shunted into a special folder to be read less frequently. It still took up too much of my time. I don’t check email as often as most people, but it was still a chore I have been enjoying less and less. So I decided to try something different.

Q. Why not just get a Virtual Assistant?

A. I actually had one for awhile, and it worked fine, but inevitably there are emails I need to respond to. I’m going to try this and I really think it’ll be easier.

Q. Won’t you lose your connection with your readers?

A. Maybe a little, but to be honest, email hasn’t been my favorite way of connecting with readers for awhile now. I much prefer the comments section here on Zen Habits, as well as Twitter. I love connecting with readers, but there has to be a balance between connecting and creating, and I have to find a way of living that works for me.

Q. I couldn’t do it — it’s required for my business.

A. Possibly, and I’m not saying you should. I really think all businesses could rethink their use of email, and use it less. There are better solutions for collaborating, for scheduling meetings or events, for getting group decisions, for managing group tasks, and so on. But people will do that when they decide email isn’t working for them as it should.

Q. What about friends and family?

A. They know how to get ahold of me. I much prefer the phone as a form of personal communication anyway. Those who want to send me messages can get on Twitter, which they should have done by now anyway, the dorks.

Q. Won’t you lose customers?

A. It’s possible. I really think people who want to get in touch with me will — I’ve provided a way to do that. If that doesn’t work for some people, it’s something I’ll live with. I can’t live my life dictated by trying to find what works for every single person.

Q. Is Twitter really any better than email? Won’t it just be another inbox?

A. I’ve found that I don’t need to check Twitter as often, or spend as long processing it. It’s not an always-connected, always-communicating tool that some people think it is — you can choose when and what to process, and only do it 1-2 times a day if you like, scanning your messages and not necessarily replying unless you feel the need to do so. It will be another inbox, but not as tyrannical as email.

I’m pretty sure there will be other objections, or people scoffing at this, but really, if it works for me, why not do it? And if it doesn’t work, I’ll switch back.