Email is everywhere. Virtually every website, store, and newspaper demands you fork it over. It’s on your laptop, your phone, and constantly on your mind. Your workplace, school, book club, yoga video membership, social media, and frozen yogurt reward points all tie back to it. It can feel like a terrifying, endless list of all the requests, bills, and due dates you’d rather forget.
But it doesn’t have to be! The rule of three, when applied to email, can save you from a cluttered inbox without the hours of sorting, unsubscribing, and creating subfolders within subfolders of important documents that other email hacks recommend. All it requires is creating three separate emails: the serious, the self, and the spam. Much like the delightful power of always keeping three beverages on your desk, allowing yourself this trio of purposeful inboxes is an act of self-care.
The Serious Email
This is the email you use most often. Your company or school assigned it to you years ago and you don’t know life without it. The serious email contains all the messages to which you dread replying and can feel inescapable. Never let this be your only email address, because it’s not guaranteed. When you graduate or move onto a new job, it could disappear in a flash. It’s also not private and your boss likely snoops. The serious email can mean stiff, formal language and passive aggressive replies. It’s functional, but not fashionable.
But it has some perks! When you send an email from this account, you get some intangible institutional authority from having your name tied to a specific university or organization, which might get you a faster response. And having a serious email address means getting to set serious boundaries about when and how people can reach out to you. A custom, automatic Out of Office message is your best friend in this inbox. And while it might not be possible for everyone, I highly recommend keeping this email off your phone (or at least turning off notifications).
The Self Email
This email is the natural evolution of the one you made at 13 to create a Tumblr account. But instead of [email protected], it needs to be some variation of your first and last name. Freelance work emails, your friends’ niche blogs, pick-up notices from your local library, and forwarded science facts from your dad belong in this email. With a little curation effort, you’ll actually look forward to checking your inbox! Try throwing in a few subscriptions to Poem-a-Day, Dan Lewis’ Now I Know, or these insightful literary newsletters. And if you’re writing to a former colleague or employer for advice or a recommendation, it’s probably best to do it from this personal account.
If you have a side hustle or freelance frequently, it might feel right to split this category into different emails, dedicating one to capitalism and the other to comfort. However, I find it easier to deal with job opportunities, bills, and rejections when they’re sandwiched between updates from my favorite museums and snippets of old poetry.
The Spam Email
The spam email is the party in the back to your serious email’s business in the front. If you’ve ever tried getting to “inbox zero,” the difficulty of blocking and unsubscribing to spam has likely been an obstacle. Devoting a separate email to all advertisements, contests, and other activities that might compromise your inbox but still intrigue you will revolutionize your email experience. There is a time and place for Bath & Body Works candle sale clickbait! Turn off all notifications for the spam email address and suddenly you get to choose when you’ll yearn for an overpriced makeup collaboration, flash tattoo sale, or the latest tech deal. Making a spam account will also protect your regular accounts from fishy emails and bots. With this inbox, spam emails become the casual acquaintances you run into once or twice in a non-pandemic year: You don’t hate them, but they’re not invited to your birthday party.