Email overload and ways of fighting it are being discussed more and more as time goes on. Many vendors are selling tools that are aimed at making our email experience more productive. Some of them are very well thought of, e.g. ClearContext Inbox Manager.
Even though I’m a tool vendor myself, I want to make it clear that better software cannot solve email overload. Better software can just alleviate the dire situation we’re all in. Two quite varied examples are anti-spam products and automatically color-coding your messages according to various criteria.
Don’t be fooled by any marketing message that says [product] will solve your email overload problems. It won’t. It can’t. Only you can solve your problems.
The reason for this is the fact that email overload is not the problem; it is just a symptom of the problem. Email overload is a result of:
- lack of organization
- bad work habits & lack of discipline
- lack of focus & concentration
- lack of training (none of us were trained to deal with such a deluge of information)
Email overload is a subjective feeling. When I regained full control of my email, I was still getting just as much email as before, but I no longer suffered from email overload. I had learned to handle it properly and still keep my balance. Although the feeling of email overload may be directly related to the height of the pile of unhandled emails in your inbox, the stress is compounded by all those other tasks that your email has been distracting you from completing.
A bad workman blames his tools
If you suffer from email overload, there is something wrong with you. There is probably something seriously wrong with your organization’s work culture as well, but don’t hide behind this: it does not mean that you have to keep suffering.
So how do we fix the situation? GTD is a good solution to the root-cause problems I mentioned above. But GTD requires practice and discipline, so it’s helpful to select tools that reinforce your good habits — the tools won’t do the work for you, but they can certainly make it easier to “stay on the wagon”.
Although I didn’t realize it then, this is why I developed SpeedFiler. I wanted to clear up the clutter in my inbox, but Outlook’s user interface made it too cumbersome for someone like me, who had 600+ folders in deep hierarchies (I have since learned to let go, and now use a somewhat flatter structure). SpeedFiler made it so easy to file my messages where they belonged, that I had no excuse for letting anything drop back in the inbox once I had read it and determined how it affected my work.
My users often get rather emotional when they describe what SpeedFiler has done for them (actually, they did it themselves; SpeedFiler just acted as a catalyst), and I, too, am captivated by the passion for productivity and the sustained burst of energy that comes from getting back in life’s driving seat.