I get too much email. Way too much. And I'm hardly alone in this regard. A few months ago I read The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox, and then I decided to do something about it.
As a technologist, I started there. What apps and services would help me manage the deluge of messages I receive every day? Sure, there are useful tools out there like AwayFind and Boomerang for Gmail, but I'd argue that they're Band-Aids. The core problem is us, not email. Solving this problem requires an entirely different mind-set. Rather than looking outward, why not look inward? What was I doing wrong?
No one forces us to immediately respond to any given email. We choose to reply a message. If we do that immediately to each email, then we effectively condition others to expect more of the same. It's all very Pavlovian.
Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb makes some great points in How To Train Your Internet Friends. We complain about the problem, yet we effectively enable it by checking messages constantly and replying as soon as they arrive.
Prepare for Fallout
Over the course of the last few months, I've tried to stop this cycle. I have intentionally left my phone at home while going to the gym to resist the temptation to quickly check messages while at a red light.
At first, this was downright weird, but I'm getting used to it. This is just part of a pretty neat 21-step program for reviving your inbox.
But be warned: A few people have sent me confused messages because they didn't receive the normal immediate reply to which they had become accustomed. Growing pains are inevitable and old habits die hard.
Email is addicting and it has become the default means of communication--but it's folly to think that it's the only one or even the best in each circumstance. Getting people to recognize its limitations is difficult. This will take time. I'm convinced, however, that the squeeze is worth the juice.
How do you keep your inbox under control?