Email Consumes Us

We live in a hyper-connected world, yet part of the blowback is the excessive communication that occurs –I fear it will only get worse over time.

Today, I spoke to an Executive at medium sized corporation who confessed that she cannot keep up with her email inflow. She receives about 500 emails a day, and told me at the end of the day she sorts by sender. First from her CEO, then by the folks on her team directly reporting to her, and then whatever else she can get to.

Despite the many collaboration tools available to all of us, we use email for way too many tools (I’m guilty too) from: Status updates, document management, calendaring, collaboration, social networking, and even for ‘conversations’.

Part of the reason I blog is that I can get my message, thoughts and story out to thousands of people in just about twice the amount of time it takes to write an email. My colleagues follow me on twitter, and often know where I’m at, what I’m doing. Scoble publishes his calendar so those he needs to interview can help schedule. Yet despite these, I, my colleagues, and Scoble and you likely have more email than can be consumed.

Ironically, most of my social media peers and I still use email as one of the main ways to communicate back and forth to each other But even more, there are more inboxes to check, twitter, facebook, linkedin, I’m getting business messages from these tools and I’m sure you are too.

So what’s the solution? It’s going to be part process, and part tools. Some have committed to responding to emails only in five sentences or less, and new tools like Xobni are starting to appear (I’ve requested a beta account)

Questions for you
1) How is your email intake? Can you handle it all?
2) How do you make your communications more efficient?
3) We’re headed to a hyper-connected world with an increase in communication channels, how will you cope?

Update: I’m all for solutions, and have found that aside from the excellent comments below, that some suggest to only check email twice a day (11am and 4pm) and to set that as an expectation. Colleague Julie Katz has announced an upcoming strategic report to help marketers how to understand how to reach those that are consumed. Hopefully, this email service vendor ClearContext promises to help with the problems.

  • I love email. That still is my favourite way to stay in touch with people I care.

    Actually I don’t receive hundreds of emails per day, and hope it will’ not happen, anyway I try to use few different accounts: one for the job, one for social media, and one strictly personal.
    The second and third are now merging, not for my choice, actually. It’s just happening.

    Anyway I try to keep mail messages as short as possible, and use social network as much as possible.
    Skype (voice) sometimes is faster than a written message.
    A telephone? What’s telephone?

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    I have mastered email management (I’m also a bit OCD).

    I set up multiple accounts that all come in to the same email client, but this helps filter.

    I’m very specific about who gets what email address.

    Only friends, family and active business associates get my main email address that I protect.

    I have an “events@” email address that I use to sign up for Concert Notifications, Art Gallery Openings, etc.

    I have a generic account I use to sign up for stuff online (that’s the one I also use for blog posts like this).

    I have another one for “contact me” on my website and a different one for “contact me” on my blog.

    FOR MY EMAIL CLIENT I USE APPLE MAIL, but I know similar filters exist for other email apps. In Apple Mail they are called rules.

    I HAVE SET UP 48 RULES. Many rules then have as many as 20 or more parameters. Parameters usually include “FROM”, though ones set up for spam also have hundred of parameters for words used in subject lines.

    When an email comes from a domain of one of my clients, it is automatically backlit with a RED bar (emails from my wife come in red text).

    Emails from any social media site that I’m a member of come in with the text labeled by the color of that site’s branding (teal blue for Linked[in], bright blue for Facebook) and are then further filtered into a folder of Social Media website notifications.

    All “Second tier” communication gets further filtered into a folder in the left panel. I have 36 folders. About half of them are there for automated filtering. Other, like my “family” folder, I move messages to manually after I have read them.

    If the email comes from a link on any of my own websites, it is highlighted in yellow.

    I have filters set up for my attorney, my bank, my accountant, etc.

    Therefore, only “important” emails are seen in my main in-box, and those are all colored coded based on who they are from. At a glance, I can tell if there is something actionable I need to attend to.

    If a piece of spam does manage to get through my many layers of spam filtering, I use the “bounce” feature, so to spammers my account(s) appear to be dead addresses.

    If I’m hunkered down doing work, I shut everything down. Email IM, phone on vibrate and screened, put on headphones and get to work. Otherwise I’m pretty accessible.

    People I do business with, and friends, are pretty good about knowing what info should be emailed, when to IM or TXT, and when is best to just pick up the phone. Email me for anything that needs to be documented or scheduled, IM me if you see I’m online or otherwise TXT me with on-the-fly updates/info, and call me if you need to discuss, or if there is an emergency. Generally these things seems like common sense to me, and I guess my friends and clients are smart people because they all seem to practice these procedures without being told or explained.

    I’ve been practicing this kind of email management for many years. I did not sit down one day and create all of these rules, filters and folders. I started doing so years and years ago, and my system has just evolved with my needs. This explains the complexity. To sit down and set this up from scratch might involve a couple hours analyzing what kinds of emails you get from who and how to prioritize and best organizing them. A half day of setting up rules, and a few days of tweaking.

  • JC

    Personally I find the DEL key to be a really efficeint filter.

  • 1) How is your email intake? Can you handle it all?
    Surprisingly little. Much of the talk is done via IM or through SMS. I phone people more often than folks of my age in China.

    2) How do you make your communications more efficient?
    Check email wherever I go. (When I’m online, email and tweets update themselves every 5 minutes; if I feel it’s too much, I shut down all network connections like wifi and Ethernet.) Not sure if that’s “efficient”, but it prepares me for what I’ve to write back.

    3) We’re headed to a hyper-connected world with an increase in communication channels, how will you cope?
    I’m ready for this. I’m on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, IM, Xiaonei, Fanfou, LinkedIn, Facebook, you name it, Dopplr, and still have my email accounts and my 2 mobile phones. I’m ready for this whole thing, to be quite honest.

  • @chris grayson

    Wow. Intense.

  • @chris grayson: It’s amazing how you’ve handled it. I need something similar for twitter.

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  • Laura

    like most folks here I receive my fair share of email between work and personal it gets pretty crazy. However my issue with email is nobody really reads it. How many times have you had to send the same email about a project two, three and four times discussing the same points and topics because more than likely you have been filtered, deleted or worse you remain unread.

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  • Ike
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  • Personally to effectively cope with the incoming streams of information including email I’m using my summarization application. At a click of a button I get to see the essential keywords and the most important sentences. Over period of time I found that looking at the instant information capsules gives me quite useful insight and saves me a lot of time. If you would like to try out summarization this is the product link: Context Organizer from Context Discovery Inc.

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  • Nothing wrong with this, at all, people should get it more.

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