Inbox Feng Shui

To me, “feng shui” translates to “decluttering.” Part of the idea is that by decluttering, you can free up some positive energy that may be blocked.

Though I’ve done a pretty good job over the years of decluttering my office, my e-mail inbox is another story.

As a writer, I’m an avid reader and researcher. Hence, I’m up to the gills in e-newsletters on every topic related to my myriad clients, as well as personal and business interests. I didn’t realize how over the top things had gotten until my assistant looked at my inbox and commented, “Boy, you get a lot of e-newsletters. Do you need them all?”

The question should have been, “Do you read them all?” Of course, the answer is, “No way,” though I always intended to.

So I cast a critical eye on my e-mail inbox and asked, “When did I read this last?” and “Does this help or hurt my productivity?”

Gone were all the eDiet, WeightWatchers, and WebMD e-mail messages. I unsubscribed with abandon from all the online stores with offers I never took advantage of. (I kept Staples for office supplies). I got rid of all the e-newsletters related to past clients’ projects.

Some of the hardest to let go of were e-newsletters published by colleagues and friends I could just never get around to reading.

I made the mistake of summarily unsubscribing to one friend’s blog. She sent back a hurt “sorry to see you go,” which made me realize you can’t just push the “unsubscribe” button on a friend. I wrote an apology, explaining I was on e-mail overload, and hoped she would understand.

From then on, I wrote notes to colleagues immediately after unsubscribing to soften the blow. I also feel a pang when I see the unsubscribe list for my own e-newsletter.

What do I see about the e-newsletters I decided to keep? Some interesting patterns:

  • Frequency doesn’t matter if the content is relevant and truly needed. I didn’t unsubscribe to small business e-newsletters like Fabienne Frederickson’s Client Attraction System, published every Friday. Or Ilise Benun’s Marketing Mentor, which comes on a semi-regular basis. Both these e-newsletters always have very relevant content for me as a small-business owner.
  • One-pagers are more digestible. I can never get to an e-newsletter’s bottom articles, and I hate printing each article individually to read on the train when I try to catch up on reading. (Based on that insight, my own e-newsletter is up for a redesign!)
  • E-newsletter readers can’t resist new e-newsletters. As soon as I unsubscribed to a bunch, I started subscriptions to another, based on more current business interests and projects.

A while back, e-mail expert Eileen Shulock mentioned in a presentation 16 e-newsletters is the limit for most people. I’m sure I’m still higher than that, but I’m starting to recognize my own limits and continuing to cut back.

When e-newsletters first emerged, they were a novelty. Everyone signed up. Now, everyone’s inundated and the amount of content available to us is overwhelming.

What does this mean to an e-newsletter publisher? Pay attention to unsubscribes. Find out why they’re leaving by putting a quick survey in the unsubscribe form. Try a one-pager and test publishing it more frequently. If you’re starting from scratch, make sure your e-newsletter is Office 2007 compliant with no background colors, too many photos, or built-in surveys.

Let Karen know your preferences in B2B e-newsletters; who’s publishing the best ones; and what formats, writing styles, content, and the like that you prefer.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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