I've never known the world of work without email. It's a luxury that's easy to forget. But I often wonder what life must have been like before email arrived - did people really communicate face-to-face more-regularly? Were memos a better tool than a company-wide email?
Just recently I seem to be having more conversations with people who are feeling utterly overwhelmed by a tool that's supposed to make life easier.
But here's the problem. Evidence would show that email is one of our biggest cognitive loads, drawing important mental resources away from other important activities.
An independent study by Atos Origin highlighted that the average employee spends 40% of their work week dealing with internal emails that add no value to the business. In other words - the average worker only starts work on anything of value starting on Wednesday each week.
Another study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that on average, we spend 2.5 hours writing emails every day. That's 81 work days a year on email!
Lately there's been a surge of tools, tips and techniques to help regain control over our inboxes. Here are a selection of those that sparked my curiosity:
Evernote (free, Evernote.com)
Yes, Evernote is primarily a note-taking/document archiving app, and a very good one at that. But aren't emails just notes/documents? The ability to tag emails, add photos, easily search through notes for acccess on any device makes Evernote a great load-shifter. You can even forward emails directly to your Evernote account. Just make sure you give it a tidy once in a while.
TL;DR (free for iOS, gotldr.com)
"Too long, didn't read" abbreviated - TL;DR turns your email into a quasi-Facebook feed. The first 30 words of an email are shown in your feed, and you can reply directly from the app, or answer emails with one tap using the 'like' function.
Mailbox by Dropbox (free, Mailboxapp.com)
Mobile friendly desktop and phone app Mailbox seeks to make the email experience as easy as swiping across your screen. Emails can be swiped into deleted items, moved to your desktop, or told to return to your inbox later. The auto-swipe function even learns from past swipes.
Inbox by Google (free, Google.com/inbox)
Currently invitation-only for gmail users, this app bundles similar messages together, keeping your travel documents seperate from promotions, and offering a highlight of each message. Create reminders for everything on your to-do list and have them reschedule automatically.
Switch to social media
Social networks such as Yammer, Twitter and Facebook that allow for collaborative, organic messages to be shared quickly and easily. I know several people now who always prefer to receive communications via Twitter's direct (private) messaging feature rather than risk messages getting lost in amongst their email inbox.
Create alternate inboxes
Refocus and reclaim time by setting up 'rules' in your email client which automatically send email to alternate inboxes. Each inbox (e.g. VIPs, family, marketing, business development ideas, and so on) is then reviewed at different points in the day/week.
The extreme solution! Email bankruptcy does what it says on the tin - simply 'select all' and press delete. The assumption here is that if an email is really very important, the sender will either re-send or call instead. Risky, but undeniably effective.
What are your favourite tips and tricks for managing your email? Feel free to post in the comments below!