I am drowning in email, and I don't know what to do.
Lately, I have been swallowed up by an abyss of emails and other messages. I decided to do my research and discovered I was spending a minimum of eight hours every week managing my inbox. (I’m sure it’s more than eight hours a week, but if I spent the time to track every single minute to get more accurate data, I might cry.)
I have seen and tried many fancy-schmancy tools available to help control my inbox, ALWAYS at a cost. No matter what, I still need to address the number of emails received and the frequency in which they arrived. At the risk of creating a debate, it is often a moot point to use some of these tools. No resource I found and tried have ever come close to solving my problem.
I started using a project management system to address this, which keeps all project communications in one place, within designated projects.
Easy enough. Not quite. Despite using the project management system, I still find myself spending hours every week cleaning up my inbox, and I can barely get work done.
Email messages in large numbers is a huge problem.
I decided that custom filters and actions to file messages would help. I discovered filters created their problems: never reading filtered messages or ultimately deleting emails I realized I never read. I resorted to bulk unsubscribing from newsletters hoping this would help reduce my emails.
Seamlessly assigning messages to an appropriate folder or task became another time-consuming task. This method took just as much time as not having a filter and filing messages manually. I was taking one step forward and 10 steps back.
Completely eliminating email for business communications.
I’ve read many articles written by companies SWEARING they eliminated email. This fascinates me, mostly because I'm skeptical and don't belive it to be 100% true.
Either I haven’t found the right system, there are too many tools available, or it’s merely too modern a concept for some to grasp by eliminating or at the very least, reducing email.
I'd love to know exactly how they successfully rid themselves of email for business correspondence.
There are far too many ways people digitally communicate today. Email is becoming more of a burden as opposed to a beneficial tool. There are alternate methods to use, the following list includes the top 5 I find myself getting sucked into:
- Text Messaging
- Social Media: Facebook Chat Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, LinkedIn messenger
- The dreaded “cc email everyone on the planet” and in return “reply to all” (GUILTY!)
- Various internal proprietary company communication platforms
Some tell me it’s too rigid not to want to use ALL these methods. My response?
“Pfft. If that is true, tell me: how in the world does anyone keep track of potentially 7 or more digital commumnications in so many different places? How can youy possibly remember who sent the message, when, and which platform was used?”
A few of my own business correspondence experiences:
There are many potential issues when using email; thus the latest trend to ditch it: Reasons include:
- Non-delivery or bounces
- Messages trapped in spam
- Reply to all messages (confession: I am guilty of this – sorry folks), and
- The dreaded “message delivered and opened but received no response.”
- Some people often use email like it's a chat program. The problem here is that a single message turns into 20; so a simple question turns into a string of confusion.
At the time I sat down to start writing this post, I had more than 250 emails sitting in my inbox, needing to be filed, addressed, and flagged.
I started the day with 30 emails, and now I have 250? How is this even possible? (True story)
Filtering Email Messages
Creating filters helped a wee-bit since many were automatically send to the appropriate folder on my server. However, without filters I am confident there would be many more than 250 messages to address.
Even with the auto-filing filters, I still have to remember to seek out those filed emails, and read them. Many are messages that are directly related to subscriptions so they can wait – but it's not a flawless process, and some false-positives have taken place. Confession: I rarely do this because… reasons. I forget and of course, lack of time. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I had time even to pick up a book! However, I digress.
My next step was to create unique email addresses meant for messages like subscriptions, personal messages, and other miscellaneous junky-types to keep them out of my important work-related inbox. Funny enough, the filed emails arrive more frequently and faster than any other type of message.
“Email is slowly killing me.”
Okay, so more specifically, here are some other communication offenses I deal with regularly:
Those who know me well, know how I feel about texting. I do not believe that texting is appropriate for business communication. Texting was not invented to have lengthy conversations. My own experience has proven that texts for business communication often includes important details, and can't be saved, filed, or forwarded.
Recently, I learned that texting isn't even a form of communication that can be used as evidence in legal matters without resorting to affidavits, warrants, and other expensive methods of proof. Texting was not created nor intended for business communication including essential details. Unless of course, the text message reads:
“I can't talk now. I’m on my way to the meeting.” or “On my way. Be there in 5.”
Unless we’ve previously agreed to use text (which is unlikely), I believe texting is not appropriate for business communications. I usually do not read text messages until the end of the day. Not to mention, text messages are so fluid and separated from documented work that I am unable to combine text messages with the related and more legitimate business messages. I take more time to string these together.
For me, texting gets a big fat “NOPE.” It does not integrate with any structured system, and since it's a virtually untraceable, informal method of communicating, I have been known to not respond to texts that are not personal in nature.
Facebook and Twitter Messaging
Sigh. Facebook and Twitter direct messages (DMs) always trouble and frustrate me. Sure, they are convenient, easy, quick, and sometimes fun, but like texting, I am unable to integrate those messages with my other messages seamlessly. There is no way for me to forward a DM to myself (via email), so how can I keep track and document the messages? These messages float in cyber-space. Another tricky aspect: if the other person you are messaging with deletes their message(s) to you, the messages are gone. Deleted. Then what?
When I receive messages in these social platforms, I will usually refer the person to my website or provide an email address. The response may sound harsh, but if that individual won't contact me that way, I see a huge red flag flying and think:
LinkedIn Messages and Emails
Oy! LinkedIn. The messages, solicitations, and canned responses are overkill. Aside from the counter-intuitive nature of LinkedIn, I rarely if ever use the platform. I estimate that 90% of the emails I receive through LinkedIn are unsolicited. The LinkedIn messages I receive are usually attempting to get me to follow the person on another platform. Individuals are trying to sell me on a service I don't need or write insincere messages in an attempt to connect with me, and it is obvious these individuals have not looked at my profile to verify what services I provide.
The messages are forwarded to my email but still require that I have to log in most of the time to read the entire message, reply, or manage them. I have unsubscribed to almost every group messaging option because, good grief, I have no idea how to report the number of those I received.
Skype is something I use often, but it is limited to very few people like colleagues and the occasional contractor. In general, there are no more than 4 or 5 people with whom I use Skype, so it’s pretty manageable. I set my preferences to “save messages forever” but have found that too can be troublesome.
“Did they email that to me? Send it on Skype? When? What keyword should I search for to find it?”
The list goes on. Nightmare.
Between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Skype Messages, those messages are pretty much like having an endless conversation with no way to track the different topics, organize, or file them according to the topic.
For me, Slack unexpectedly fell in the same categories above. If everyone is on-board and uses slack within a company, great! You’re on your way. However, are you?
Slack offers many ways to organize, have private conversations, channels (like topics) and search for content in various ways. The problem I have with Slack is that even if you have a channel for a particular topic, there could be an entire year’s worth of conversations and other noise (i.e., questions, unrelated benign chatter, and other topics.) which makes important discussion get lost in the shuffle. Since there is no limit to the number of channels and private conversations you can have, Slack can quickly get out of hand making it more difficult to find things you need, remembering which channels important comments are in, and if misused, are potentially worse than email.
Project Management Systems
I tried Asana for a while because it looked and sounded like the least complicated system for a small business. I gave it a real tried-and-true effort and thought I had found the best solution ever! Creating email filters to forward emails into Asana was what seemed like a great concept. Until it wasn’t.
Ultimately stopped using Asana because I needed to remove the added time-suck and frustration. There are other project management systems to choose from, I can't seem to find one I love or justify the cost given my past experiences.
As mentioned above, I spent just as much time trying to clean up Asana to organize things that I realized I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure this out. Also, I discovered it's not meant for use with clients, but rather for internal team project management, so the client side of things added to the confusion.
Proprietary Internal Communication Systems
Many companies these days have a special system created just for them. Unless employees of the company are the only folks who will be using it and requiring communication, that will defeat the purpose of abandoning email. Every company has outside customers of some type; otherwise, what are they doing and how are they making their money?
The proprietary systems do keep internal communications more streamlined, but I don’t buy the whole “we have abandoned email and no longer use it” claims. I’d love to know what they do with outside clients, customers, and interested parties.
If the outside clients, contractors, and other people that are doing business with that company aren't using the internal system, how exactly are they communicating? (suggestions and are welcome in the comment section below)
Is there a Solution? If so, what is it?
I discovered (in general) that no matter which system you find which helps keep YOU organized and in order, unless everyone else you communicate with uses the same system, you’re stuck in the abyss that is email message hell. I am troubled by this. The busier I get, the more business I acquire, the more email I receive, the more there is to manage. Ultimately, messaging becomes harder to track.
I used to say I would get rid of email, completely. I couldn't imagine a world without email. However, after trying so many alternate methods, I find that email ultimately is (for now) the most practical way to track, file, and validate business communications – short of resorting to using snail mail, and who wants to do that? (sorry USPS)
I haven’t found a better solution, yet. I do my best to follow along with trends, new services I discover, and what clients, colleagues, friends, and the “not to tech savvy” folks are doing. It seems crazy, but I found I have to use pretty much all the communication as mentioned above methods for fear of missing important messages and I am not keen on that.
So yes, I have been abducted by email and all the other methods forced upon me.
I do believe there is a solution to eliminating email woes, but after trying so many alternatives, I am stuck. I have to find an answer, and I welcome your feedback!
How do you manage your business email?
As I planned to write this post, my ultimate agenda was to share my experience and hopefully learn from others. I have questions!
What has your experience been?
- Are you married to email?
- Have you been able to eliminate email?
- If you have eliminated email, please share HOW you achieved this success in the comment section so that I can give it a go!
- What type of business do you have and how many people do you work with regularly?
- Are you a solopreneur?
- Do you work with a larger group of people in one space or peppered over a larger geographical space??
- Other than email, is there a preferred message/communication method you use, love, and wouldn't give up if your life depended on it?
- How do you keep your co-workers, clients, or colleagues in line to use your preferred resources most efficiently without adding to the workday?