“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
It’s one of the immutable laws of the universe that time is the one thing you can never get more of. It should be guarded carefully. In today’s world it’s far too easy to make little commitments that can drain away the limited amount of time we have on this earth. One manifestation of this subtle erosion is being too free with your email address.
Psychologically there are few more powerful motivators than a free giveaway. But once that transaction has been completed, you are subject to an unspoken, and unavoidable sense of obligation. The perceived value of the gift does have some effect on the level of the obligation you feel, but every freebie you accept comes with a string.
Free is virtually ubiquitous in the online world – but there is always a hidden cost
Digital products are incredibly cheap to create and distribute. Some of these are very useful. The only thing that is universally demanded in payment is an email address.
Sure, the vendor needs the address to deliver you the goods, but that is never the end of the transaction. By clicking submit you are granting someone access to your life. You are opening a channel to your limited attention and you are committing a tiny slice of your valuable time to their enterprise. This is where many of us can get into trouble.
Your email address is a valuable commodity
Statistically email is the single most effective channel for selling things to you later. The moment you sign up for your free gift you will begin receiving a series of messages designed to convince, cajole, and sometimes beat you into submission to purchase something from the sender.
Ignoring the problem is not a solution
I tend to fall into the habit of either deleting, or simply ignoring, these messages. Neither of these approaches is a true solution however. Most of the people writing the subject lines for these automated communications are good. Even though I know I will probably find useless junk inside I cannot help but click on some of them. Even the few seconds it takes to realize my mistake add up. That’s time that I will never get back. Even worse, I tend to get behind on the deletions when busy. In only a few days I inevitably have an inbox that is overflowing with meaningless attempts to attract my attention. These can quickly bury the truly important communication I need to be doing.
There are only two ways out of this barrage.
1. Unsubscribe ruthlessly
Scroll all the way to the bottom of every junk email and hunt for the unsubscribe button in the microprint of the disclaimer, then jump through whatever hoops are required to get off that list. Make a habit of this. Any time something shows up in your email inbox that isn’t a “Hell Yeah!” in the words of the great Derek Sivers, take the time to end that digital relationship. This takes time, but I consider it an investment worth making. Think of it like a satellite TV package. Every time you opt out, you shut down one of the channels in your programming package that you mindlessly flip through searching for something of interest. Taking away one of those channels makes it that much easier to realize that there is nothing on and that you should get up and do something useful.
2. Resist the urge to sign up in the first place.
This path is much harder to walk. If you are a curious person who is bent on success and trying to learn, you will be drawn to anything that claims to give you a leg up. The arguments that go through my head range from: “How do you know its a scam until you read through it” to “If its useless, I’ll just unsubscribe”. It is VERY hard to convince myself that in general:
That’s it. You can rescue hours of your time and free yourself from the frustration of a massive number in the unread email ballon with these two simple steps. It’s not a free solution, but with a little effort and a little discipline these two actions can help you avoid a death by a thousand cuts.