They sit there, stacking up by the minute. I try to stay on top of them, but I can never arrange them by priority, and then I panic: What if in the mess I missed an important one from a friend or family member -- or both? What if I offend someone by not responding? What if I can never read all of these? What if everyone hates me?
It's called email anxiety. It might not be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, but maybe it should be -- it sure feels like a psychological condition.
But over the past couple of months, a number of new email services and add-ons have come out or been freshened up in the hopes of assuaging email agita. Some aim to get your inbox down to zero, while others aim to simply organize the inbox mess.
Is there effective therapy or Xanax for email stress out there?
Introduced in February, Mailbox quickly became one of the hottest apps for the iPhone. It has one main goal: to get your inbox down to zero.
Log in with your Gmail account (it only supports Gmail right now) and you can do one of four things with each message: delete it, archive it, set a reminder about it or add it to a to-do list.
And you can do one of those four things in the cleanly designed app by swiping on the message. A long swipe to the left on top of a message lets you set a reminder about it. There you are presented with some options: you can decide to have it remind you later today, this evening, tomorrow, this weekend, next week, in a month, or at a later specific date.
An even longer swipe to the left on a message lets you add a message to a to-do list. For instance, I added a movie recommendation sent by a friend of mine to a "to watch later" list and made a new list called "to make plans with" for messages about potential drink dates.
The app is interesting and forces you to think about every message you get, but it can require a lot of work at first. I didn't just want to archive all the messages in my inbox, so I went through more than 400 messages. It also is limited now to just the iPhone and Gmail. But if you've got those two things, and a lot of time to manually sort through your messages, Mailbox is worth a try.
(For those that are looking for a similar solution for Gmail, but don't have an iPhone, Boomerang, a Gmail add-on for Chrome browsers, will let you set reminders on messages too.)
If Mailbox is manual transmission, Sanebox is automatic. Log in to your Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or other email addresses through the web application, and the service works behind the scenes in your email to put unimportant messages in a "Sanelater" folder.
It took less than an hour for the service to go through my 79,000 emails in my entire Gmail inbox and archive. At the end it did a pretty good job of determining what was important, too, placing my Twitter notification emails and Facebook "like" or message alerts in the Sanelater folder or the label in my Gmail.
For the most part the service was good at figuring out what was important and what was unimportant, but at times I did find an email I would have liked to see at the top of my inbox in the Sanelater folder. You can specifiy though by e-mail address what should go where. It will also remind you with, yes, an email, when you haven't responded to an email.
The service will also cost you. It costs between $2.04 a month for one email account and five reminder emails a month. It costs $5.79 for two accounts and 250 reminder emails.
But there's a free solution that might be the perfect thing to ease the anxiety of wading through all the marketing and newsletters that clog up your inbox.
Unroll.me rolls all your newsletters and other consistent emails from brands or social networks into one daily email. The service allows you to select what emails should go into the daily Rollup. For instance, I had it put all my sales or newsletter emails, ones from J.Crew, Dictonary.com, Fab.com, etc. into the daily digest.
It also has some other useful tricks: You can get a social digest, with just your social network notifications and also unsubscribe easily from newsletters you get.
In the end I found Sanebox and Unroll.me to be the closest things to email therapy. Sanebox helped set priorities for the important emails and got the number of unread messages in my main inbox down, and Unroll.me wiped away all those newsletters and marketing emails and put them all into an easy-to-read digest.
But in the end, I know easing email anxiety has to come from me. I can't feel guilty about not responding to every email, and I simply will never have time to look at every newsletter or daily email list I have signed up for. Ultimately, as any therapist would agree, easing the anxiety has to come from within.