Email Overflow: Why I Hate My Inbox

Email Overflow The Mobile Spoon

Email has been one of the most important working tools for years, yet lately I’m beginning to dislike my endless, messy, over needy, time consuming inbox.

Discussing it with some of my colleagues and friends, I learned that they all suffer from a similar problem, struggling to properly manage their emails, wasting hours trying to master their inbox, so we tried to analyze the reasons why our inboxes turned form being our best assistants into becoming our greatest enemies.

Here are 3 behavior patterns that will make you hate your inbox:


1. Over-chatty emails:

People like chats, they always did. Yet, emails were never designed to replace chats or the instant messages in this respect. The only problem is: people often treat emails as if they are part of a huge chat, or a social network, by sending useless replies with no meaning.

Thanks!”  |  “:-)”  |  “No Problem!”  |  “Same Here” – those are just some of the examples I found in my inbox. Some of them includes a much longer text that still does not say a thing.

Are we chatting or working? Do we really need smileys? Can replies with only smileys and no text be deleted automatically please? (I just gave myself an idea for another Outlook rule). Are we going to have ‘Like’ button in emails soon? Because if we are – I’m quitting!

Oh, and the best part: over-chatty emails are always being replied to all


2. The Magic Tasks – Emails magically turn into an endless task list

You all know what are Magic Tasks, you just don’t know they are called like that.

Here is how it goes: 

  1. You get an assignment from your boss to do “something”.
  2. To complete this “something” you need some answers or help from some colleagues of yours.
  3. Chasing people is hard, they all have their own “something” to do, so you take the easy way out and send them an email, asking for that “something” you need in order to complete your own “something”.
  4. Magic #1: by sending that email, you are no longer the owner of this task. The responsibility was magically rolled over to your colleague (without him approving it). Your table is clean.
  5. Magic #2: when your boss asks you about the status of your task – you can always say: “I sent him an email, still no answer…” and guess what? You are clean! Off the hook. The failure is not yours.

Now some of you are probably thinking: “Wait a minute! People are actually doing it to me! my inbox does have magic tasks!” – that means you are a key person or a domain expert in your organization, people need your guidance, or knowledge, and the easy way to get it is by sending you magic tasks. You are actually working for them now, thanks to emails.

And a message to the ones who are actually sending magic tasks: stop it. Look for the information yourself, pick up the phone, go visit your colleagues, discuss those topics face to face. As revolutionary as it sounds, it might actually save some time. 


3. Showing others you are working by misusing the ’CC’ option:

Yes, we all do it. Sometimes by accident, sometimes in purpose. But cc-ing too many people just in case anyone has something to add, or as an informative method of saying: “hey, I just did this, thought it would be good to let you know… and you… and you… and all of you as well…” is actually very annoying.

Sharing information is not always a bad idea, but the problem these days, is that people are doing it too often, plus it actually increases the probability of getting over-chatty responses (see behavior #1 above) from people that were not supposed to be in this email thread in the first place. 

I say, lets give people some time to do real work. Stop spamming them. Catch them in the corridor, and give them a 10 seconds update saying things are done, under control, all set.

The 3 behavior patterns above are only partially responsible for the ‘Email Overflow’ many are experiencing.

There are more reasons of course: spam, social network emails, and other goodies, but the 3 above are actually caused by people we work with, as part of a change in our working habits which is becoming too social and less efficient.

It all ends with an impossible load of emails, causing people to spend hours managing them, or answering them while siting in other meetings (yes, we all suffer from the “laptops in the meetings syndrome”) and an overall feeling there are just too many emails to handle them all.


Cooperman said…
It's the way forward, and so reward to collate ideas/projects/tasks in a system other than your inbox so you can get back to using your email properly "[Email] is a method of exchanging digital messages" - Wikipedia
Mike Perham said…
Im glad to have found this post as its such an interesting one! I am always on the lookout for quality posts and articles so i suppose im lucky to have found this! I hope you will be adding more in the future...
Steve said…
Brilliant. Couldn't agree more.
chnlove said…
Nice to be here and see your post !