I am drowning in messages and I don't know what to do.
Lately, I seem to have been swallowed up by an abyss of emails and other messages. I decided to do my own research and discovered I was spending a minimum of 8 hours every week managing my inbox. I’m sure it’s more than 8 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 even tried all the 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, in my opinion, it is often a moot point to use some of these tools. None of the resources I found and tried have 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, right? 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.
It’s a huge problem.
I decided to create custom filters and actions to forward specific emails to my project management system and others to put messages into folders, but that creates it’s own problem: cleaning up the forwarded messages after they arrive inside the project management system. Figuring out how to seamlessly assign the messages to an appropriate task became another time-consuming task which took just as much time as not having the filter and doing the work manually.
I’ve read many of articles written by companies SWEARING they have completely eliminated email from their business. I am fascinated by this. Either I haven’t found the right system, there are too many tools available, or it’s simply too modern a concept for some to actually grasp eliminating or at the very least, reducing email.
There are far too many ways people digitally communicate today and it’s becoming more of a burden as opposed to being a benefit. Knowing 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 may say it’s too rigid not to want to use all of these methods and my response is:
“Pfft. If that is true, tell me: how in the world does anyone keep track of all this digital communications when it is in potentially 7 or more places? How do you remember who sent it, when, and from where?”
I’ve summarized some of my experiences below:
There are many potential issues when using email, thus the latest trend to ditch it: Non-delivery, messages trapped in spam, reply to all (confession: I am totally guilty of this – sorry folks), and the dreaded “message delivered and opened but received no response”. Some people use email like a chat program so a simple question can turn into a 20-30 message 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)
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 to even pick up a book! But I digress.
My next step was to create unique email addresses meant for messages like subscriptions, personal messages, and other miscellaneous junky-types in an effort 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, especially for business communication. It was not created for that purpose and, in my opinion, texting is not meant for important business communications, unless of course, the message reads:
“Hey, I’m on my way to the meeting. Be there in 5.”
Unless we’ve previously agreed to use text (which is unlikely), I believe texting is not appropriate and to be honest, I tend not to look at texts 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 simply not respond to texts that are not personal in nature.
Facebook and Twitter Chatting
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 seamlessly integrate those messages with my other messages. 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. This may sound harsh but if that individual won't contact me that way, I see a huge red flag flying and think:
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 (yeah, I know, not a great idea but again… reasons above). I would estimate that 90% of the messages I receive through LinkedIn are unsolicited attempts to get me to either follow the person on another platform (which is NOT how this is supposed to work, but again, I digress), individuals trying to sell me on a service I don't need, or insincere attempts to connect with me from folks who have made it obvious they have not even looked at my profile to see what I actually do.
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 in 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. But 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, benign unrelated chatter, etc.) 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.
I am sorry to say, I stopped using Asana because I needed to remove the added time-suck and frustration. There are other project management systems to choose from, I just 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 just go back to the drawing board and figure this out. Also, I discovered it's really 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. And unless the 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 just don’t buy the whole “we have totally 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 definitely welcome in the comment section below)
What’s the Solution?
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 abysmal black hole that is message hell. I am troubled by this. The busier I get, the more business I acquire, the more messages there are to field and manage. Ultimately, messaging becomes harder to keep track of.
I used to say I would give anything to get rid of email. That's all I wanted but couldn't imagine a world without it. 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 the hell 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 discovered I have to use pretty much all the above-mentioned communication 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 that seem to have been forced upon me.
How do you manage your messages?
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 your email?
- Have you been able to completely eliminate email?
- If you have eliminated email, please share HOW you achieved this success in the comment section, so I can give it a go!
- What type of business do you have and how many people do you work with on a regular basis?
- 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?
I do believe there is a solution to eliminate email woes, but after trying so many alternatives, I am stuck. I have to find an answer, and I welcome your feedback!