Tackling email overload: Lost cause, or noble battle?

Amy Scott Oct 23, 2014

Tackling email overload: Lost cause, or noble battle?

Amy Scott Oct 23, 2014

Update: Amy Scott did, in fact, hear from Marketplace’s IT department…

On Oct 23, 2014, at 6:13 PM, “Li, Tinson” wrote:

Hi Amy,

Just heard your segment on PM.  Cool piece.  But 49,000 emails?  Can we work with you on cleaning some, if not all, of that up?

Please let us know.

Tinson Li 

Consider the following statistic for just a few moments, which comes to us from the Radicati Group, a tech research firm: By the end of today, more than 100 billion business emails will have been sent and received around the world.  As any office worker will tell you, we are drowning in email—which is why Google has announced a new invitation-only service called Inbox to help manage the clutter.

Reading and sorting email “starts to feel sort of like this to-do list that other people have assigned to you,” says Google spokesperson Andrea Freund. Inbox is designed to “take the work off your shoulders,” she says.

For example, the app will analyze your email messages and highlight content you’re likely to care about. Take a flight confirmation email from an airline – the departure time and gate number will display at the top of the inbox, and automatically update with any changes.

Inbox is the latest in a series of apps and services designed to help people identify the information they need, and quickly filter out the junk. Others include Mailbox and Boxer. Even traditional corporate programs like Microsoft’s Outlook have many tools to automatically sort and filter messages.

Sharon Profis is a senior editor at CNET, and one of those “inbox zero” types who strive to read and deal with all their email by the end of each day. She says there will never be one solution.

“They all tackle email a little bit differently, and that’s the point, because each of us likes to manage our emails differently,” she says.

One study by McKinsey & Company estimated people spend a quarter of their workdays dealing with email.

That adds up to billions of dollars in lost productivity, says Jonathan Spira, who wrote the book “Overload.”

To truly tackle email, he says, you have to change people’s habits. One of the best tools he’s seen is a prompt that asks, essentially, “do you really need to copy five people on that message?” before you hit “send.”

“That’s the type of thing that changes behavior and helps direct emails only to the people who absolutely need to see it,” Spira says.

CNET’s Sharon Profis says all of these tools will only work if people are willing to spend time setting them up.

We’re looking for the fullest inbox in America. Think you’ve got it? Tweet @Marketplace.


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