We all know and experience email overload, at least from time-to-time. I’ve discussed email extensively here, and yet I never feel I’ve covered everything. Email is such a large part of our lives, and yet, a large burden constantly seeking our attention and distracting us from more important things.
I personally take extreme care in making sure my email inbox is manageable at all times, if not completely empty. But I also use other (better) tools for many things that most people rely on email for, so achieving “inbox zero” is not hard for me.
It’s about working smarter, not harder.
But I also understand that not all email users are as enthusiastic about maintaining their inbox as I am. It really comes down to a desire to organize and make things as efficient as possible. Most people just don’t have the time for that.
That being said, here are various (other) ways to reduce your dependency on email, in both your personal and professional lives.
(Note: These suggestions require additional software or services, which may require a learning curve or adaptation up-front, but over time it will pay off by reducing your dependency on email.)
For correspondence that is not time-sensitive, try using a social network to send a private message, or share publicly with your entire list of contacts and groups. Either way your recipient should eventually see the message, but it’s not screaming for their attention in their email inbox (unless they have email notifications set up, but that’s entirely their preference).
There are even social networks for professionals, such as Yammer, which is excellent for inter-office communication and updates while reducing excess email.
Since almost the dawn of the consumer internet, instant messaging has been around. It is available as a standalone service or application (through various providers), and it is also baked-in to various services like Facebook, Gmail, etc. (For the workplace, consider an application like Pidgin.)
There is absolutely no reason why you should not be using instant messaging to some degree, especially in the workplace. It can be used for almost any degree of urgency, and doesn’t immediately interrupt the recipient. Rather, they can continue what they are doing until they have a moment to check your IM.
IM’s also don’t linger. An email must be attended to – it requires that you do something with it – either delete, archive, reply, make note of it elsewhere (like a task management system), etc. It’s an extra step that can add up to a lot of work when you consider how many emails we receive these days.
I don’t know many people that are not using SMS these days. It’s become an ubiquitous way to communicate with anyone that has a mobile phone number. It has it’s limitations but can often be the easiest way to connect with someone quickly.
If all else fails… email
When you consider these alternatives, you may be wondering why email is still around. Email has it’s place for certain types of correspondence, mainly formal updates that are best written down for future access.
I tend to avoid emailing someone unless it’s something I don’t need an immediate reply on, and that I may want to look up later for reference.