Death by E-Mail

Returning from a few days out of the office, I was reminded again of how oppressive a jammed Outlook Inbox can be. Even though I diligently checked and responded to e-mail messages during my absence, I still faced a daunting pile of messages and related items that required follow-up. The resulting sensation was a little like suffocation — with the likely outcome of death by e-mail.

There is an extreme, but highly effective, strategy for avoiding death by e-mail: simply declare an e-mail moratorium. Luis Suarez has completed seven weeks of Giving up on Work e-mail. Others like Lawrence Lessig and Fred Wilson have declared “e-mail bankruptcy.” In the words of Wilson, “I am so far behind on email that I am declaring bankruptcy.” Haven’t we all experienced that feeling.

A less drastic measure is to follow the advice of Lifehacker Gina Trapani who recommends dumping that backlog into a separate Outlook folder and starting with a clean slate. You’ll feel like you’ve lost 20 pounds. Alternatively, the folks at Lifehack offer How to Avoid E-Mail Bankruptcy: 5 Rules that Work.

Jack Vinson’s post, Yours is bigger than mine, ha ha, points out that a key problem is that we are profligate in our approach to e-mail. We send too many messages to too many people. Mutually assured destruction by e-mail. The only solution to this is to send e-mail sparingly.

Being an advocate of incremental change, I took Gina’s advice. It’s an interesting experiment in personal knowledge management, but it seems to me to be very necessary. I can attest to the incredible lightness of being I experienced when my inbox shrank from several thousand messages to fewer than 10. Now let’s see how long this lasts.

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