Email. It’s quickly becoming the bane of our existence, even though it’s the biggest social network in the world. Yes, even bigger than Facebook. More people use email than they do any other service on the web, and if mis-managed, it can keep you awake at night.

If I had a buck for every person who complains about how many unread emails that they have, I’d be a billionaire. Why is email so hard to manage? For geeks, it’s because we sign up to every damn service known to man, creating more and more junk in our inboxes. For everyone else, it’s because they are busy paying attention to other things, like their actual lives. Yes, I know, it’s different for everyone, but the problem is the same.

What should we do about it? Mark them all as unread before we start 2012. Here are three reasons why:

1. If you haven’t read them already…

Who are you fooling? If you haven’t read the 3,000 emails in your inbox, you’re never going to read them. Do yourself a favor and spend an hour on setting up filters to get junk out of your inbox, then mark everything as read.

When I talk to people about that, they say “What if there’s a recruiter email in there?” or something similar. Quite honestly, if you haven’t returned an email to a recruiter in under a week, they’re no longer recruiting you. Same goes for someone trying to send business your way, or offer you a speaking gig.

2. Stress

Most people need something to stress out about. First world problems, right? How many times do you hear someone complaining about how many emails they have in their inbox? Quite a few, I’m sure. Your response shouldn’t be to coddle the person, tell them to simply mark everything as read. The more emails that stack up, the more stressed we get.

When you notice an email chain starting to get longer and longer, cut it off and try having a conversation with the people in another format. If they’re co-workers, have a meeting. If they’re friends, pick up the phone. I know, crazy right?

Cut down on the excessive email and it won’t pile up. Less stress means better performance. Focus on things that really need your full attention.

3. Behind the numbers

Spend an hour and dig into the email that is behind those huge numbers. They’re mostly worthless, I promise. No matter what email service you use, there are features to filter out messages from certain companies or ones that match certain subjects. Create the filters, learn about what’s junking up your inbox, and then mark them all as unread. Never look back.

Inbox 3422 drdrew@gmail.com Gmail 1 520x169 Stop whining and start 2012 off with zero unread emails

Moving forward, just tackle email as it comes in and take action right away. If you see a notification from a music service you tried a year ago, filter it out immediately and move on. You’re not going to miss anything, and there are no prizes for having the most unread emails in your inbox.

We should use the Internet, not let the Internet use us. Do yourself a favor in 2012 and by any means necessary, cut down your stress level. There’s no reason to take a bunch of baggage from 2011 into the new year, so give yourself the gift of an inbox with a big fat goose egg.

Be careful during your New Year’s celebrations folks, and for goodness sakes, don’t read email or text while you drive.