Do You REALLY Want That Email?

We all like free stuff. If the lady in the supermarket deli offers a sample hors d’oeuvre, we say, “Why not?” A free car wash after we fill up the gas tank? “Why not?” A free puppy? “Why …” hmmm.  And that’s the issue. Sometimes “free” comes with a commitment that we really don’t want to make. The same holds true for all the free information you could have flowing into your email inbox.

It’s very easy to get email we never really wanted. Sometimes companies that we’ve done business with will sell our email address to third parties. Sometimes when we’re signing up, making a purchase or downloading something from a Website, we forget to uncheck the box that says, “Send me ….” But those situations are really due to our not paying attention to things like “terms and conditions” or privacy policy notifications. Our focus here is on information that you truly (even if fleetingly) thought would be worthwhile. These are email messages that might cause you a slight twinge of regret as you delete them unopened, or make you feel a bit guilty if you consign them to your spam folder.

In some ways, the compulsion to receive a lot of these kinds of email (White Spam) is like that of hoarders. All their possessions provide emotional comfort. Similarly, we might get a sense of affirmation when people share their information with us. Maybe the more we get, the more important we feel. Deleting White Spam unread might leave you with a sense of loss.

However, you don’t have to have an obsessive compulsive disorder to end up with White Spam. Occasionally, it’s just a matter of too much of a good thing, like with that free puppy. Let’s say you started off the New Year with a resolution to live a more health-conscious life. As part of your plan, you go to the WebMD and get on some of their newsletter emailing lists. (They offer more than 40, by the way.) Or maybe to be more frugal with your money, you want to stay on the lookout for special deals, sales events or coupons … all to be delivered to your email address.

Just stop. Wait. Think.

  1. Delay your decision. Any newsletter or email communication you can sign up for today, you can sign up for tomorrow. See how you feel in a day or so. (Remember, it usually only takes about a week for us to come back to our senses regarding our New Year’s resolutions.)
  2. Set a value. Get past the “free” come-on and try to put a price on the communication that you would be willing to pay. If that price is zero, don’t sign up because nothing is ever free. Dealing with the eventual clutter is going to cost you in terms of annoyance and lost productivity. And even if you do look at it occasionally, that will be time you may have spent in a more rewarding way.
  3. Be aware. See if the communication will be monthly, bi-weekly, weekly or (heaven forbid!) daily before signing up. Now think about all the email that you’re already receiving and how well you manage to get through it all. Do you really want more?
  4. Be selective.  Okay.  So maybe you really, really do want a puppy. That doesn’t mean you have to take home the entire litter or that you have to take a Great Dane when a Chihuahua is available.  For instance, rather than six newsletters covering a variety of health subjects, maybe you can find one equally well-written publication that’s more general interest.  Consider your options (it’s a BIG Internet) before making your choice.

Finally, you can console yourself with the knowledge that if you don’t get that email, you probably aren’t missing anything important. After all, just think of all the millions of emails, alerts, news feeds and assorted deals-of-a-lifetime that you don’t get every single day … and yet, you somehow manage to survive.