Thursday, May 15, 2014

Email, Still A Sonofabitch!

Just about two years ago, I went off the deep end. I had come home early from an event in an effort to do something responsible: email. I was on the road and knew the situation would be dire (since I had not been checking my email all day). I was wrong. IT was a  disaster . It may as well have been Inbox Trillion. There was  NO way I could get with All My Sanity intact through IT. So I did The only  logical  Thing.  I Quit email .
It was both an experiment and a statement. I decided that I wasn't going to respond to email for an entire month. And while I did cheat a little (I would still check it from time-to-time in case of emergencies and to delegate some work-related items that couldn't wait), it was without question one of the best months I've ever had.
I was decidedly less stressed out. I found myself enjoying the internet more. I no longer dreaded opening up my laptop or looking at the push notifications on my phone. And guess what? If someone really needed to talk with me about something, they figured out a way. Funny how that works.
And yet, the good times couldn't last. The month came to a close and  I was back on email . While I don't think I actually missed anything in my time away, the sheer ubiquity of the medium and the realities of life brought email back into my life full time.
And I hate it more than ever.
In the months and now years following the experiment, a number of people have asked for an update on my epic battle with email. The good news is that a few things have gotten much better. The bad new is that everything else has gotten much worse.
After my experiment, I tried a bunch of different things to make my email situation more tenable. What I ended up coming to was a system where I would be checking email constantly throughout a day, responding to what I could quickly from my phone, archiving anything that didn't need a response, and keeping the rest in my inbox until late at night, when the incoming volume would drop to near zero. Anything that wasn't timely would then sit in my inbox until the weekend when the incoming volume is uniformly lower.
It was a bit like letting pressure build up (quite literally, you might say) and releasing a bit of it at night so my inbox wouldn't explode. And then releasing the rest of it every weekend. And then starting over on Monday. Every Monday. Forever.
This was my life. And while it was manageable, you know what? It still sucked. Because I would find myself getting gradually more and more stressed out throughout the week as I saw my inbox grow and grow leading up to the weekend release. It made me more stressed out on Friday than on Monday. I now somewhat dreaded the weekend. Email time.
Then one day a  CrunchFund  portfolio An idea by Company asked ME to run. That Company, Orchestra , had they learned from What Army was planning to take to-do and make a new Kind of Switch app email client. That, of course, became  Mailbox .
The moment I First Heard The idea from,  I knew  IT was a winner. It was essentially taking a lot of what I was manually doing with email and streamlining the process. And they were doing it in an extremely smart and even sort of fun way, using the native niceties of modern smartphones.
Mailbox quickly became my most-used app. It still is. It basically alleviates the pressure build-up in my inbox by allowing me to release it constantly throughout a day. Brilliant.
But also sort of an illusion.
I'm not alleviating the pressure by responding to emails right away. Instead, I'm pushing them off to deal with at a later time. My system of Responding to The Weekend is on or largely Emails at The Same Night, I NO longer have to Simply  Watch  Up Until I am Ready to build those Emails take Action.
Now, don't underestimate how wonderful such a system is. IT's a system that will continue to improve and with that automations and The Mailbox now has like The Resources of  them behind Dropbox . But don't be fooled into thinking that the problems of email have been solved. The underlying issues very much remain.
Simply Mailbox perfected The Game of  Whac-A-Mole-  All We play that.
One major issue that remains with email is the notion that every message should get a response. And a big reason why I hate responding to email during the day is that too many people are too quick to respond to my reponses. For every email I send in the day, I seem to get two in return - often immediately. (As a result, this caged animal has been learning not to touch the electric fence - hence, night and weekend emailing.) And a large number of those responses are "K" or "Cool" or "Great" or "Thx" or some other banality best left unemailed.
The problem with these responses, even the short ones, is that they all take time to consume. If I read them in Gmail, it takes a couple seconds to load the response. And then another couple seconds to archive it. If I read them on my phone, I have to wait a few more seconds to download the messages from the server. Not to mention the push notifications that come in alerting you to the new message, taking up yet more precious seconds.
Seconds make up minutes, which make up hours, which make up days, which make up months, which make up years. One day we'll all be laying on our death beds wishing we hadn't wasted all that time reading a million "K" email responses in our lives.
Email needs some sort of quick response or maybe even a no-response reply system. Maybe it's read / unread states that all recipients can see. But that's been tried before and understandably, some people don't like others to know when they've read a message. So maybe a simple checkmark BE IT needs to, like in Path Recently introduced its  new messaging system .
Or maybe the answer is something like emoji / smilies / stickers. Believe me, I know how lame this must sound. I mean,  stickers  for Chrissakes?! But ignore the immense cuteness and joy of stickers for a second and focus on what they signify: an ultra-quick way to express a reaction. This could work for email too.
Neither of these things would work if they simply came in the form of yet another email response - thus, defeating the purpose. Rather, these should be in the form of some sort of quick-loading visual cue that resides * on top * of an email system. That would likely require everyone using the same email service (unless this somehow became a new standard that every email service provider adopted - not gonna happen). But perhaps a fall-back system could be put in place to deliver these quick messages in email form if the recipient isn't using the correct email service (giving them an incentive to sign up).
My Point is I guess while statement we're seeing that come out with a Lot of services to new and interesting ways Overload Combat email - beyond Mailbox, see:  HandleTriageEvomailMail Pilot , and many Others - The only way EVER email truly gets "fixed" is to be completely re-imagined. It doesn't need a paint job, it needs a demolition job.
My fear is that this will never happen. We'll keep getting better tools to handle email on various devices (on your iPhone, on your iPad, on your iWatch, on Google Glass, etc) but eventually the moles will become too quick and plentiful for any of us to whack.
At that point, email will become something we only use for work while we use some other quick messaging system for everything else. This is already happening to some extent - when was the last time you sent an email for "fun"? - But the messaging world is increasingly fragmented and not universal.


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