Recently, I wrote about being busy and how to avoid unnecessary time suck by getting that busy time under control.

I was pretty happy with myself because I believe I have it under control.  I examine my time frequently and make sure I know where it goes. 

But How Can It Not Be Social Media?

My primary time suck culprit used to be…you guessed it, Social Media. In this lengthy blog post where I poured everything I had on the topic, I described how I took control of my social media consumption and the value it still brings to my life. 

But, recently, I noticed there is still so much more of my unstructured, free time that goes somewhere, and I have nothing to show for it.

I Tracked My Week in 30 Minute Intervals 

I went back to my good old time tracker, where I tracked my time in 30 minutes intervals using a simple excel spreadsheet. I did this for seven days and was shocked at what I discovered. 

I was spending upwards of two hours a day reading various newsletters and subscriptions that come directly into my inbox. 

My time suck was my email! And for over two decades now (no kidding) I take pride in my Inbox Zero.

Help, help, what have I done. And how? I choose carefully, like most of us do, what goes into my precious inbox. 

But, each newsletter I subscribe to comes with more links, and each link leads to another link. So whether I am reading on my phone or my laptop, I am getting sucked into the black hole of the internet. You may think you don’t have 2-3 extra hours to spend on that anyway. I didn’t think I did.

But as they say, you always find time for those easy and passive consumption activities like browsing and watching Netflix. 

And there seems to be an increasing trend of curated newsletters all over the internet. 

Everyone wants to have a growing mailing list. That includes every online newspaper and magazine, an online or a brick and mortar business, a reputable website, a small, one-person blog like mine. Just google “email list,” and you will find article after article telling you why you need to create your email list now and how to lure in your subscribers.

My subscriptions include blogs that interest me and literary magazines (reputable and obscure) I love to read. But they all lead to more links, and because I like to keep inbox zero at all times, I tend to open and read them all.

But since I examined my time in honest 30 minutes intervals, I can now take this head-on.

So Did I Unsubscribe? 

Unsubscribing would be the easy thing to do, but I love all those newsletters. I have followed some for years and do still find something of value to me. 

Although, using the word value is always questionable. Plus I tend to suffer from FOMO.

I saved this quote from Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism as a reminder. 

How much value do we really get from time we spend on any activity?

Let’s not forget what Thoreau said: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

But I was not ready to kiss them all goodbye yet. 

What I Did Instead?

When my son was a baby, I subscribed to at least a dozen websites for mothers, parenting, etc. At some point, I cleaned up my email and unsubscribed from them all. I cannot tell you what a relief that was. I used this handy little tool, called Unroll Me to do it. I figured I would just start with a clean slate.

I never looked back.

So I may end up doing that eventually, but as I wasn’t ready to let go yet, I went to the good old email filter. 

As the newsletters kept coming, I went to my Yahoo Mail Filter and created two new folders for my subscriptions (Sub Literary and Blogs), and directed my emails automatically there. 

This still allows me to keep my Inbox Zero. And like Newport advises, I can now schedule my low-quality leisure time by going directly to these folders. 

In the last five days since I established this folder, over 30 newsletters went in there. Some are from the same sender, some not. But I would have, on a typical week, probably opened and read (most probably skimmed, but still) every single one of them. 

I believe I will end up unsubscribing from many of them after all.

This practice of temporarily removing ourselves from a source of time suck (honestly, I haven’t opened them yet, just because they come to a folder that is not immediately visible to me) is what Cal Newport refers to in this quote.

A Pledge to Myself

  • I want to spend more time doing things in the physical world rather than passively consuming. 
  • More physical creativity (hey, Creativity is my guiding word for 2021) and more face-to-face meaningful social interactions.
  • More high-impact but demanding activities like yoga, hiking, writing, engaging in various social activities and quality time spent with my family. 
  • Less of everything else. 

How about you? Do you regularly examine your time? Have you found anything surprising? 

16 Comments

  1. I soooo need to do this. I have so many subscriptions that I don’t even remember how I got! A friend recommended a tool called unroll, which helped her organize her incoming newsletters, etc. Might help someone here as well 🙂

  2. It’s eye-opening where all the time goes when you start counting it up! I’ve had to stop reading every interesting article that friends post on FB

  3. Oh my gosh, email! I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t that. Congrats on your zero inbox. It was something that I tried to do for a while (even made folders to organize!) but I’m now sitting at nearly 2000 unread emails!!!! I try to delete and unsubscribe from what I know isn’t important but I haven’t found the time to go back and review the newsletters that have caught my interest. I will need to dedicate some proper time to it! My time suck is definitely social media!

    1. Author

      I am in awe of people who can have 2000 unread emails in their account and not be bothered by it. I think in my obsessive way, I couldn’t sleep until I at least deleted them. I wish I was more relaxed on that front. I am also thinking that in that case, I’d just unsubscribe from them all (using unroll.me) and then trust that if it was important for me it will come into my life again. Otherwise, you will probably never miss it.

  4. I’ll start dividing things in 30 min intervals, seems like a nice way to keep a better track. I know where I think my primary distraction is (not social media, which is funny) it it worths to check closer

    1. Author

      Good luck! I’d be interested in finding out what distracts everyone else!

  5. Yes I have also gone through this phase trying to figure out how time was flying and instead of a relaxed day, I would land up getting worked up. It’s then that I sat down and looked at managing time better and to reduce unproductive activities which were really not helping my blog grow. Thanks for some more great tips here which would be of great help too.

  6. I never would have guessed emails were the thing sucking up your time! I’m the person who signs up for an email list so I don’t forget to go back and revisit something, and it goes to my inbox to die and be long-forgotten, despite my best intentions. I’ve had my email address since college, so who knows what I signed up for between then and now. But I constantly forget to read it.

    1. Author

      And that would probably be the case with me, except that I am obsessive about having my inbox at zero – i.e only emails I need to action are currently there. But if I subscribe to too many things then this is what happens. I am constantly on top of it. And yes, my inbox has been around since the beginning of yahoo and before gmail was a thing. I love yahoo 🙂

  7. Yes! This is something that I realized early last year when I was taking a look at what was keeping me from being more productive during my workday. I went through and unsubscribed to a BUNCH of different email newsletters. I also have an email set up now that I use to sign up for everything like that and it is NOT synced to my outlook on my computer. That way, it’s easy to check my work-related emails without getting caught up in anything that I may still be receiving either a) because I truly like the content or b) because I haven’t yet unsubscribed.

    1. Author

      That is a great way to manage the newsletters. Love it.

  8. Hey Stella, I am exactly like you! I am subscribed to so many newsletters, I read (or at least skim through) them all, and I must strive to keep my inbox at zero all the time. However, I realized that newsletters take up a lot of my time, and instead of sectioning off my inbox as you have done, I set aside time to read newsletters. For half an hour every day when I wake up and while I am on the go, you will see me going through all of my newsletters. That said, I use email sorting for more spammy notifications, most notably from Medium. It is nice to have these filters at our disposal. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Author

      Hey, glad to hear that we are inbox zero soulmates! Since I filtered my newsletters into one folder, I find that I actually still read them (the ones that made the cut), but I do it, like you, at a set time, when I am relaxing with a cup of coffee (it beats scrolling through social media) but they don’t distract me from when I sit down to work anymore. It is so important that we are aware of what does and doesn’t work for us and more importantly to try out different ways to stay productive and organized. I am team Notion all the way, thanks to your useful blog posts!

  9. Wow Stella! Firstly Hi from me and from Cresting the Hill (please don’t unsubscribe from my one little email a week!) and I could SO relate to this post because it’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. Emails aren’t a problem for me – I have a zero inbox too, but I do subscribe to a few blogs so I don’t lose contact.
    I’ve unsubscribed from everything that tries to sell me something or that signed me up when I didn’t really want to be. Despite that (and not being on Twitter or IG) I’ve realized I spend too much time online – hours every day that lull me into thinking I’m busy and instead just take me away from the “real” stuff.
    I’ve just left my Zoom group that was fun but I felt like I’d outgrown, I’m closing my blog’s comment section soon (very time consuming) and I’m trying to be more hands on with real stuff – colouring, reading, jigsaws, and trying my hand at some calligraphy. All tangible and hopefully a better balance for my life. x

    1. Author

      I love your blog so much, Leanne! It is the kind of blog I want have and I am still working on achieving that level of authentic sharing. It didn’t even occur to me to unsubscribe! But having filtered the subscriptiona into their own folder now, i find that I can now dedicate some leisure time to reading (and commenting) rather than doing it when I am supposed to be doing something else. I am so aware of wanting to do ‘real’ stuff.

      And if I may offer my opinion on comments. I actually found other awesome blogs through comments on your blog. (I have been reading it for over a year now) I think they are a great way to connect! Maybe we don’t need to respond to each one, but as a new blogger, I find them more valuable (and real) than social media engagement! That is why I love my email subscriptions, too!

      But also agree with you about taking a step back and doing something tangible/physical!

      Appreciate your comment!

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