Rethinking email

emailOr maybe not actually rethinking email, but taking it back to what it was meant to be about…

Working with a colleague the other day in a government organisation, I saw him looking for a document, that he was sent in an email. He was looking for it in his email client (Outlook in this case), in an inbox that contained thousands of emails, and lots of email sub folders, all of which contained hundreds, if not thousands, of more emails.

He tried clicking his way through, sorting and resorting folders in different ways, without success. He tried the search function, also to no avail.

This, I thought, is madness. Many people in many organisations do exactly the same thing. They keep hold of thousands of emails, many kept unread for one reason or another, because they might be needed in future, or because they act as reminders to do something, or because they have file attachments that might be useful.

Here’s the thing though. Your email client was set up to receive emails, and to send them. It’s not a task manager. It’s not a file store.

Of course, it’s not individuals fault that they are misusing their email in this way. After all, if a genuinely better, more usable alternative was available, they would use it. But sadly the productivity and document management tools available to your average worker in a big organisation are rarely very usable.

I’d be really interested to know how big a problem this is for people – as I have a little idea around something that could help.

So, are you drowning in email you don’t feel like you can delete? Let me know below!

8 thoughts on “Rethinking email”

  1. Hi Dave, A timely article as last week I started to monitor my emails, volume received etc. as both my day job and my roll as a councillor involve many hours going through emails, an early discovery is high volume of junk email plus the newsletters etc that I recieve – I have started to unsubscribe. The next high volume was emails I had been Cc’ed into and then all the replies to these Cc’ed emails most of which I did not need to see. Kr Ian

  2. Totally feel the pain!!! Use to have the Xobni plugin for Outlook and that worked geat. Unfortunately they were bought and it’s no longer available. Would be interested to hear from others what good plugins they’re using or more about what Mr Brigg’s big idea is!

  3. Yes!

    Just doing a presentation in Manchester today on Project mgmt and how ‘tools’ particularly digital ones (Microsoft) are still making us organise our work (and personal) lives in ways our brains don’t, or shouldn’t be thinking anymore.

    Sarah @rufflemuffin

  4. There are a couple of good email clients that are trying to re-think how we handle email. Both ‘Mail Pilot’ and ‘Mailbox’ take a ‘getting things done’ (GTD) approach to handling emails. Unfortunately both of these are focussed on Apple users at this time.

    Here’s how I handle email:
    1. Firstly I have a mail rule set that anything that I’m CC’d on gets put in a special folder. If I’m only being copied in then it doesn’t require my attention (as much as if it was ‘to’ me).
    2. Any thing that gets into my inbox (in Mail Pilot, in this case) gets processed as follows – if it’s something that needs responding to and can be quickly dealt with I do it straight away.; if it’s something that needs responding to and will take a while, I forward the email to my OmniFocus (a GTD task management app) email account; if it’s general information then I forward it to my Evernote (knowledge management system) email account.
    3. In all 3 cases the email is dealt with and so it gets archived.

    All the above means that my email inbox only has in it items that are new; Anything I need to do is in my task list and anything I need to know (now or later) is in my KM system.
    I only check my inbox 3 times a day and my CC box once a day (if that).

    I live in an Apple world but there are Windows and Linux equivalents for Omnifocus; not so sure about email clients.


  5. I think those of us that use Gmail probably find this less of an issue thanks to the powerful search. Of course it means being happy to provide Google with so much data.

    I’m hopeful that Mailpile will come through with as good a search function, then I’ll move mail back to my own server.

    Interested to hear what your idea is though.

  6. I can empathise with trying to find emails! I used to use Xobni, but it slows down the computer. I use Mailstore now which works well.

  7. Hi Dave

    Email is the biggest drain on my work time, sorting, replying, diarizing, etc. I don’t delete email for all the reasons you give here.

    The trouble is, the culture of email is out of control. I receive so much email I don’t have enough time to process it all. So much of it goes unread/missed. We’re suffering under a culture of email that is out of control. For example, in my office all staff receive an email when the post has arrived, another when the internal courier has arrived then we are emailed again individually if there is anything in either of these deliveries for us. We’re fowarded emails which simply say “see below” or “FYI” at which point we’re expected to trawl through a whole email thread searching for anything that might have some relevance to our work.

    It’s a nightmare.

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