The Three Commandments of Email
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Is email broken?
Don't get me wrong, I'm fairly certain modern business would collapse if we suddenly misplaced all copies of Outlook, but it can be hard to remember that when I start my day sorting through 14 unsolicited advertisements for bridesmaids' dresses.
A professional tip to the person who puts together these ad campaigns: I know I'm planning a wedding, but it's pretty unlikely "Eric" is the name of someone interested in a bridesmaids' dress.
Email has become increasingly unmanageable, to the point where many of us spend nearly as much time disposing of useless material as we do on substance. Even messages that have real content, like an offer from Groupon or a blog update, have their time and place. Maybe I'm interested in that cheap sushi, but at 9 a.m. while writing to an editor?
This is what Dmitri Leonov, a vice president with Sanebox who makes his living thinking about email, refers to as separating out the signal from the noise. Spam, as a problem, has become largely manageable thanks to increasingly sophisticated filters that are no longer fooled by offers for Cheap V!agr@. Unfortunately, that still leaves a flood of semi-requested messages to fly in every single day and a nation of smart phone users to sort through them.
"The average person spends 13 hours a week processing e-mail," Leonov said, about 30% of their working time. "This problem has really snuck up on us and happened out of nowhere. It wasn't like you woke up one day and had a thousand e-mails. It's crept up on us over a number of years."
Yet Leonov disagrees with the idea that email itself is broken. The problem is that it works too well. When anyone can reach you at virtually no cost of time or money, everyone will. Unmanaged inboxes have become more like fire hoses than turning on the tap.
It's this explosion in volume that led Leonov to his Three Commandments for managing email, a set rules for making your inbox useful again. They are:
- Rule Number One: Email is like Tetris. It won't slow down unless you change the game.
- Rule Number Two: Dedicate blocks of time to your inbox. Otherwise, turn it off.
- Rule Number Three: Not all emails are created equal. Treat them that way.
"The problem is that [email's] still essentially a new thing for us, and overload really crept up over the last few years," Leonov said. "Because of that people really think that they can power through it and get the inbox to zero and win the game, but the reality is that you're not going to win. It's like Tetris. You're eventually going to lose. So something needs to happen. You need to think about your workload and how to manage it."