Email has been one of the most popular forms of communication for many years now. With the rise of chatbots, instant messaging and social media, you may be forgiven for thinking that It isn’t quite as important as it once was, but this isn’t the case. In fact, a recent American study found that over 50% of respondents check their emails more than 10 times a day. Not to mention, the number of active email accounts worldwide is expected to pass 5.6 billion by the end of this decade. Clearly email is as popular as it ever was- even when facing fierce competition.
One of the main problems with email is that it’s too popular. With the advent of smart phones, the email app is literally a click away and the compulsion to check and respond to messages is constant. Many people are swamped with hundreds of unanswered emails which require substantial time and effort to process. The problem is that new emails are generated each and every day, so the backlog grows and individuals can often feel overwhelmed. Email is not going away any time soon, so the question becomes how can we deal with this growing epidemic of email overload.
There’s no problem that didn’t get at least a little bit better with some organisation and this applies here. Most email accounts do some sort of basic organising for you, for example priority and spam, however this isn’t usually enough. There are so many types of messages which hit our accounts every day, whether promotional, work, news or social. Creating dedicated folders will allow you to have a clearer picture of your emails and therefore the constant stream won’t be as overwhelming. Folders also allow you prioritise your messages.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of treating all emails equally and attempting to respond to everything as you receive it. However, this can often just exacerbate the frustration of not being able to keep on top of everything. The truth is that the majority of emails that we receive can be placed on the back burner, at least for a short time. Therefore, the next step after organising should be prioritising. Reserve your time for the most important emails that require immediate attention and then work backwards. This means that even if you don’t have a lot of time dedicated to your emails, the time you do have will be prioritised, ensuring greater overall efficiency.
One of the reasons why emails can very quickly take over daily life is because they’re ever present. We are notified with every new message, which immediately puts pressure on people to respond. The outcome of this cycle is continual interruption of the day and a feeling that the job is never done. One way to combat this is to allot a specific portion of time each day which is dedicated to processing emails. Outside of these times, you should be in an email free zone, either by blocking notifications or simply resisting temptation. This approach may be difficult at first but after a while the routine becomes second nature and you can successful compartmentalise this aspect of your life and stop is taking over.
With email overload becoming such a problem, some individuals and organisations are attempting more drastic changes to combat the issue. For example, this idea of unnecessary messaging and reducing this to bring down the overall amount. So, if you’re replying to an email with a single word answer or a simple “thanks”, this often just adds to the general bulk of messages and is often not needed. Follow up emails may be polite but they just tend to add to the mass.
Building on this concept, there is a discussion happening about whether email is always better when compared with other forms of communication. There are discussions, agreements or deals that would take countless back and forth messages over email but could be completed in a single phone call or face to face meeting. This is easier said than done, especially when considering that millennials will soon make up the largest proportion of the workforce and as a group, they tend favour email above all else. In fact, a massive 73% of millennials prefer business communication to come via email.
It’s clear that the overload problem will take some creative thinking and that is exactly what company owner Tony Hsieh has done. He is known for out of the box, unconventional ideas, for example abolishing managers. His approach towards email is a concept called “Yesterbox”, the idea being that we only reply to emails that we received the previous day- unless you get an urgent message that can’t wait. It may not seem that exciting at first but many people have tried it to get success. Whilst today’s emails are continual, yesterdays are fixed and therefore there’s a clear, finite target to aim for. This technique doesn’t actually change the amount of emails that we deal with but its changes our perception of them. The difference between a set amount and non-stop, continual stream can be huge when it comes to stress and management.
One thing that is for certain, emails are not going anywhere so the emphasis needs to be on how we interact with this form of communication. With the right approach and boundaries, we can enjoy all the benefits of email, without the stress.