FF Daily #275: FF Recommends | Three strategies to manage the newsletter deluge

January 16, 2021: How to sort your newsletters—and actually read them

Founding Fuel

[Image by 733215 from Pixabay]

Good morning,

In the past, we have heard from a few members of the Founding Fuel community, especially Gmail users, that they are not receiving our newsletters. They wanted to know how to make sure they land in their inbox every day at 8AM.

Here's how.

Gmail

If you are using a phone: Hit the three dots at the top right corner, click "Move to" then "Primary"

If you are using a desktop: Back out of this email. Now drag and drop this email into the "Primary" tab near the top left corner of your screen. You will now see a prompt at the bottom left to apply this setting to all mails from Founding Fuel. Please select Yes.

If you are using iPhone Mail App: Tap on our email address at the top of this email (next to "From:" on mobile) and click “Add to VIPs”

For everyone else—follow these instructions

Feel free to reply to us if you have any difficulty. We will be happy to help you. (And of course, forward this to your friends and colleagues.)

Now, the discussion on emails led us into a deep discussion on how we manage the newsletters we get ourselves. Our newsletter reading lists have been growing, especially in the last few months. Some of the brightest minds across the world have taken to sharing their views on newsletters. Substack is big now. This is on top of startups that are predominantly newsletter-driven (Axios is our favourite) and traditional media that have been doing a good job with this format (e.g. Shira Ovide’s (NYTimes) take on tech). 

We found that each of us have found our own solutions. Here are three. 

  1. Unbundle and rebundle
  2. Move to Stoop
  3. Develop better Newsletter habits

Take your pick. Let us know how it worked for you.

Unbundle and rebundle

By NS Ramnath

The problem 

A couple of months ago I noticed that my Gmail inbox was overflowing with unread mails. Most of them were newsletters I had subscribed to. My initial plan was to set aside some time every day to read them. That never materialised, and, over months, so many had accumulated, my Gmail was choking, and I had to mass delete them. I felt bad, because in the process I ended up trashing so many interesting perspectives that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else, a reason why I subscribed to these newsletters in the first place. 

After some trial and error, I settled on a process that is working for me 

The solution 

  • Create a separate email ID for newsletters: A separate ID is good because it won’t be competing with your personal or official IDs for your time or space in the inbox. There’s a reason why Stoop Inbox has so many fans. You can shut down the distractions. (Afterall, newsletters are a distraction for your personal/official work, and personal/official work is a distraction for your learning sessions with newsletters).
  • Access the newsletters via a different email client: After trying out a few, I have settled on Unibox, on both my iPhone (free), and desktop (Rs 1,249, one time payment). Unibox is perfect for newsletters, because it sorts the mails by sender. If you have subscribed to FF Daily, you will get all our newsletters in a single thread. 

Why it works for me

  • The newsletters get naturally sorted by subjects. Cognitive load is lower when you are not shifting from subject to subject, sender to sender. 
  • Unibox makes it easier to catch up with the earlier editions you might have missed. Reading previous editions is often important to connect the dots, given the speed with which things are happening today. 
  • It follows the contact-centric sorting even when you search. If I search for leadership, I automatically get all the FF Daily newsletters mentioning leadership in one cluster.

In short

While newsletters are a super convenient way to get fresh insights and perspectives from super smart people and companies, having the right tools will make the process easier.

Move to Stoop

By Charles Assisi

The problem

Much like Ramnath articulated earlier, while I see much merit in newsletters, oftentimes they pile up and I don’t know where to begin catching up on all of what I want to. After trying all kinds of permutations and combinations, including staying up late nights to create folders, labels and whitelists to manage the inflow of newsletters and stay on top of it all, I concluded it is taking too much of my time.

The solution

The Stoop Inbox App available on the iOS and Play Store is what I have settled on for now. Why did I opt for it? 

  • Because it offers me a customised email address that I now use to subscribe to all newsletters. These are grouped into customised folders.
  • The text and video embedded in the newsletters can be viewed in Stoop. It does not move me to an external browser.
  • Stoop curates the most popular newsletters across categories and offers pointers to new ones that may interest me.
  • It does not collect personal data.
  • If for whatever reason I may want to unsubscribe, it’s one-click away.

(When expanded, this is what my Stoop Inbox client looks like)

While there is a free-version available, I opted for the premium plan billed annually at $10 / annum. This allows me to maintain an unlimited inbox size and add multiple personal email addresses. Plus, to sign up for other newsletters, I now use the Stoopinbox address. 

What I don’t like 

  • There are many sites that insist on Facebook, Gmail or LinkedIn credentials. Stoop Inbox does not work there. 
  • The desktop version is still in beta mode. What is on offer currently isn’t as slick as the mobile and tablet versions. 

Develop better newsletter habits

By Anmol Shrivastava

Show me a person who is able to read all their newsletters, and I will show you someone who is either a liar or is under-subscribed.  

Here’s my confession: The proportion of newsletters I miss is still more than the ones I read. But four things I have tried over time have helped move the needle.

1. Split the inbox: Most of us let the algorithms decide where each email should sit— Inbox, Social, Promotion, Updates, Forums and Spam tabs. Not only is this categorisation random and inefficient, it largely falls apart on the mobile. 

A few months ago, I had written about the power of splitting our inbox in “How to make email your superpower”. As Ramnath and Charles said, it's better to have a separate category for newsletters. While they have decided to use a separate app and/or email ID, I have set this up within my email ID itself. 

Here’s how mine looks. While I use the Superhuman client, here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can achieve a similar effect on Gmail. (If you aren’t on Gmail, look up the web, there are lots of how-to pages for most email clients.) 

The advantage? It makes it easier to carve out a specific time to read them at one go. Also, I can judge my progress at a single glance. If there are a lot of unread emails in this category, I know I have slacked off recently.

2. Avoiding the temptation to hoard: Building a daily rhythm around reading newsletters is tough. When I go five days without reading a single one, skipping on the sixth day becomes easier with a promise to myself that I’ll catch up on all mails on the seventh day—which never happens.

Here’s a practice that has helped me avoid the trap. I have divided my newsletters into two categories: Those that are more enduring and often less frequent, say a Paul Graham article, and can be allowed to sit. And those that tend to be more topical and are often worth reading on immediately.

Now comes a self pact: If I don’t read the email in my news inbox on the day it was sent, I just mark it as done (equivalent to deleting/archiving). This comes with great momentary pain. It’s not easy to do that to a newsletter you wish you had read but couldn’t. However, every time I indulge in this practice, I find myself more disciplined over the next few days.

3. It’s okay to skim: Over time, I have learned how to skim newsletters. It’s a behaviour that doesn’t come naturally to me. While there is some compromise on depth, it allows me to cover more ground and carefully pick a few themes worth exploring.

4. Avoid zero-days: It’s important to realise that the ultimate goal is learning and reading newsletters is just one input in that pursuit. The goal is to avoid a zero day, a day where I have done absolutely nothing towards my goal or dream. So I have learnt to be kind to myself if I missed a newsletter, but have had a productive day at work or an insightful conversation with a friend. 

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