Post-pandemic: Dealing with the Information Fire Hose

For the last year or so I haven’t been able to keep my email inbox clean. It seems emails pile up by the dozens each time I check. Though imperfect, I’d always managed to keep my inbox under control. I answered or actioned emails. Then either filed, saved, or deleted. I wouldn’t say I’ve given up, but I do notice I rely on the search box to find things more often.

It’s not just my email inbox that is drowning from a persistent influx of content and volume. My text messages are out of control. Messaging chains are long and sometimes very detailed. Every channel possible contains shared photos and videos. Everything is everywhere, all the time.

Until recently, I hadn’t really thought about why all my usual systems for keeping my digital life organized started failing. Suddenly, two main reasons for the system breakdown occurred to me.

  1. Since the pandemic started, we’ve all been relying heavily on digital communications. Some conversations that might have happened in person now take place over emails, messages, shared photos, posts, etc. Pre-pandemic messages with friends likely would have centered around making plans to meet, i.e., messages that could be easily deleted and cleaned up. With in-person socializing restricted for so long, many messages are more substantive. This makes it more complicated to just delete them without losing context for future conversations.
  2. Burnout and information fatigue. This is related to the first reason. Since I now receive nearly every communication or interaction digitally, I’m constantly inundated with a variety and volume of content. This is part of the reason I’ve been unable to stay on top of my systems to keep me organized and my volume of content manageable.

All of this to say, I’ve fallen behind. For example, my inbox contains over 400 emails. Over the last two years, I slowly watched this number grow. Occasionally I made a feeble attempt to clear out a page or two.

I face a similar struggle with my professional life, too. Since we work remotely, many casual or quick conversations take place over email or messaging. Before, these kinds of exchanges would be in person without anything to file or process after.

Hopefully, now that many of us are resuming in-person activities, that will help to reduce the volume so I can get back on track.

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