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What deleting 7738 emails taught me about life

man action figure robot on a pc digital minimalism

What does one do when they have a mountain of work? I, for one, finally got to deleting old emails in the email address I used when I was a kid!

Well, not that one (, the other one I got when I was a teen.

For security purposes, I won’t be mentioning the actual username. However, I’ll mention that you’ll be able to find it on this very website if you try to. I probably shouldn’t have said that.

Deleting 7738 emails is no small feat. That’s precisely why I chose it as my procrastination weapon. 

Seasoned procrastinators know that procrastination takes work. You can’t just sit around looking at the ceiling. Or maybe that’s the way seasoned meditators procrastinate? 

Not me, and I’m guessing not you either. To take yourself away from the work you need to do, you need a weapon with the power to distract you for at least an hour. 

A lot of people go with tools *designed* to distract you, like social media platforms. 

That’s sometimes my weapon of choice too. This has been a very busy week for me. In a counterintuitive turn of events, it’s the week with the highest average screen time, 3 hours 12 minutes.

If you’re wondering how I get anything done if I spend so much time on social media, the funny answer is that I don’t. The real answer is by taking the time (no pun intended) to truly understand Parkinson’s Law and Einstein Time.

Procrastination The Inner Dolphin -brown analog clock

Many people use social media as their procrastination weapon of choice. To procrastinate like a pro, you need something that feels like work, but where your energy is being completely misdirected.

  • If you need to clean your room, you dive deep into your equally dirty email inbox to delete or reply to emails. 
  • If you need to get some work done, you magically turn into Mr. Clean and deep-clean every room in your house. 

I turned to my old email address. Google gives everyone 15 GB of storage. I panicked thinking the thousand of emails I’d accumulated over the years went over the free limit.

What I learned from deleting 7738 emails

Cringe is an inescapable part of life

No matter how cool you think you are, no matter how cool others think you are, despite anyone or anything, you were once cringe.

“Mos u mat se je, mos u mat se ke, se e din bota e kuja je.”

My paternal grandma used to say this to me, which roughly translates to “Don’t pretend you are, don’t pretend you have, the world knows you.”

It has a negative connotation, as in “you’re not all that.” She used to say it to me when I was feeling myself. 

I like to think that she did it so when I grew up, I wouldn’t turn into a mendjemadhe, which literally translates to “big mind” and means quite the opposite of what you think it means: conceited.

This “tough love energy so you wouldn’t turn into a cocky person” was rarely reciprocated for my older brother, but we’re not here to talk about my childhood trauma. Lol?

My grandma passed away years ago, but one thing’s for sure. There’s a guaranteed way to make you drop your arrogance like a hot potato, and it’s going through old emails. 

red cringeworthy cringe text over a crying baby old cover of Melissa Dahl's book
Old cover of the book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl. Image: Portfolio Books

See, old emails are filled with Facebook notifications back from when Facebook was new and fun and 100% harmless. 

Everyone used to talk and write online the way I did, but this didn’t stop me from throwing up in my mouth a little when I read old conversations. Most of them were public because we wrote on each other’s Facebook Wall, remember?

Going through 7738 emails made me realize that cringe is a part of life, even though I thought was so incredibly cool and unique back then. Cringe is inescapable. Cringe puts things in perspective. It builds character. Cringe is good.

I’m friends with most of the people I used to talk to back then

This was low-key surprising to me. Going through the notifications I saw so many familiar names. 

Sure, this may be easily explained by the fact that I still live where I grew up. It may be inevitable in a country with 3 million people that you’re still going to be friends with some of them. 

This would explain it… if it weren’t for my very high friendship standards. 

In Choosing a Major, the Pros and Cons, Usages, Realizations, and Regret, I also wrote about my friendships in university:

“Besides a group of girls (bless their souls) who came to ask me if I wanted to join their group, I didn’t have many social interactions. I politely declined the group’s kind offering. Only by the end of the first year, I met two people I could gladly give up my peaceful alone time for, so I did. I truly enjoyed my alone time, I have no problem being alone, but leave me with the wrong people, I will lose my mind.”

This is a core truth of mine. I treasure alone time and quality time with my loved ones, but I will turn into a bundle of sadness if I’m surrounded by the wrong people. 

This is why I simply never surround myself with the wrong people 🙂. If I realize someone’s values don’t align with mine, and talking it through isn’t helping anymore, I distance myself.

So, I like to believe that it’s not by chance that I’m still friends with many of these people. It’s because they’re amazing. 

FOMO transcends interpersonal relationships

A famous saying goes: 

“How do you eat an elephant?

A bite at a time.”

That’s obviously a metaphor, but this is as good a time as any for me to mention that people who hunt and kill animals that can’t defend themselves suck. I also find people who eat wild animals unsettling. I’ve found myself in the middle of one or two conversations that went like this: 

X: I’ve eaten whale meat.

Y: Huh, I’ve eaten crocodile meat, but not whale. How was it?

Z: I tried monkey meat once.

These weren’t indigenous people in a sacred relationship with nature that I don’t pretend to understand or be able to explain.

Eating wild animals is weird. Eating animals is weird, period. Hunting is weird. Zoos are weird. 

white piglet chewing hay christopher carson animals
Look at this cutie!

It’s a nuanced conversation, of course, and we can disagree on this. 

Back to the elephant. One bite at a time. 

How did I delete 7738 emails? One email at a time.

Well, that’s not precisely true. I hit “Select all” and deleted all the emails on the page without seeing what they were. Select 100, delete, select another 100, delete. Repeat.

Then an email caught my eye and the rest is history. I started looking at the email subject and opening some emails. This would obviously take way longer than the Select, Delete route. 

But, I thought, what if I’m deleting something important? What if I’m hitting Select, and hidden in those 100 emails, is a sweet email my mom or best friend sent? 

The word “FOMO” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

In the 2013 study Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out, researchers defined FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as: 

…‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’. 

Nearly 3/4 of adults reported experiencing FOMO.

For me, FOMO applied to my long-forgotten emails too. I thought I’d be missing out if I didn’t see what they were about before deleting.

This address was linked to my Facebook (I had 4000 Facebook Friends back in 2008. The OG influencer!) and Tumblr page. All that I’d be missing out on were the Tumblr notifications about porn bots following me, how exciting, and the ancient Facebook notifications filled with “xDDDDDD.”

But then again, I’d be missing out on funny conversations with my friends that now made me feel nostalgic.

Here’s how I convinced myself to pull myself together and get back to deleting ruthlessly. If I’d lived well the last decade without these memories and emails, I’d continue living well without them.

Digital minimalism

The last point about living well without them brings me to my next point, digital minimalism. 

According to Cal Newport, author of the book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World:

“Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It’s the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world.”

The book was an instant New York Times bestseller. Minimalism had been part of the mainstream discussion for a while, but now it was time to take it further. 

Social media, notifications, email, were now seen as potential enemies. Long before Newport’s book, many others were speaking about the dangers of social media and the “always on” lifestyle we were all served and expected to upkeep.

A few years ago, I shared my notes from Newport’s other book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In it, he argued that “deep work is more valuable than ever before in our shifting economy.”

One of the nemeses of deep work? Our digital communication styles.

“Also consider the frustratingly common practice of forwarding an e-mail to one or more colleagues, labeled with a short open-ended interrogative, such as: “Thoughts?” These e-mails take the sender only a handful of seconds to write but can command many minutes (if not hours, in some cases) of time and attention from their recipients to work toward a coherent response.”


But digital minimalism isn’t constrained just to the interconnected nature of social media. Just like you’ll need to declutter your room if you’ve bought hundreds of clothes you’ve never worn and never intend on wearing, you’ll need to declutter your online space if you’ve deleted a file in your life.

If your email address and desktop are filled with junk because you “want to keep it just in case,” you probably need a spring clean.

I care to keep my working space clean and fun, so looking at it doesn’t become a source of stress for me, but quite the opposite. Why not do the same for my digital space? 

Doing without a purpose is worse than not doing (or is it?)

Earlier this week, I shared on Instagram a podcast episode from NPR’s How I Built This with the founder of Mailchimp. Then, I shared an article from the time I worked as a full-time writer in Albania. It was about brand optimization and I’d obviously fangirled over Mailchimp in it.

My opening line was from the late management consultant Peter Drucker, “whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.”

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker 

In the article, I explained how a lot of the work done by marketing agencies is done very efficiently, alas uselessly.

Similarly, I started this task to save myself the headache of having to frantically delete thousands of emails when I got the dreaded notice from Google that I was close to the 15GB limit. All good, right? 

When I was almost done, I saw the little notice at the end of my screen.

You’ve used 0.27GB of your free 15GB storage

Funny. I probably could’ve gone another decade without having to delete anything, but because I wasn’t attentive to my time or purpose–I was trying to procrastinate after all–I didn’t notice until it was too “late.”

But nothing is ever too late and my future self in ten years will thank me, I’m sure. 

3 thoughts on “What deleting 7738 emails taught me about life”

  1. The clean the house email thing is big!! All ages. Cause you never
    know when you might get company or audit of some type. Lol!!!

    I am the seasoned meditator!! Humility and acceptance of what is required.

  2. There’s no better way to start out a week than taking a sip of coffee and reading your well articulated thoughts. All love

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