Unbreaking Email - 6 weeks later

The last thing I did at work last year was to delete all of the mail from my inbox. Don’t worry, I took a backup, first, but I wanted to try something new with email. The day before, I read a wonderful blog post by my colleague Cody Bunch on how he planned to “unbreak email in 2015.” by using a simple set of rules. I liked the simplicity, and decided to give his system a try. It’s been six weeks, here’s how it’s going.

My Implementation

A bit on how this method works for me. I am using this system for my work email. I use Outlook for Mac (If you have to use exchange, there’s really nothing better). I use a variety of tools to communicate in real-time: IM (Google Hangouts, Lync), IRC, and occasionally an actual phone. The hard part now becomes training everyone else to use those intentionally instant communication methods instead of email when they need to get in touch immediately; That’s another battle.
Unfortunately, my system is not complete. I have one tool that alerts me to new tasks which is currently broken. This means I’ve had to adjust my filters to keep those messages in my Inbox. It also requires me to check my email in real-time, something I had hoped to eliminate by now. Hopefully that will change soon.

The Good

One aspect that I like about this system is the almost constantly empty inbox. If something is in my Inbox, it’s a task. And it sits there, haunting me, reminding me to do something about it. That’s been good for me. I’m happy to report that, as I sit and sip coffee on a rainy Sunday morning, my Inbox consists of 5 items - all tasks I need to follow up on early next week. This one email habit change has turned my Inbox from a mass collection ground into a useful to-do list.

The Less Good

As I mentioned above, I’m not yet able to turn off my email client for hours at a time, so I haven’t had the option to fully test the setup. I also suffer from an inability to control how others utilize email. This is, of course, an inherent flaw in email. I cannot opt in or out of an email thread - I’m in if someone includes me, and I’m stuck in there until all participants remove me from the thread. We compound this with varied user behavior - some users treat email as an instantaneous communication tool, others asynchronously (as it was intended). This leads to massively forked conversations, with some participants “captive” to a conversation they cannot escape. This is not necessarily a flaw of Cody’s system; I only want to point out that we still have lots of work to do to educate our coworkers on better email usage.

Let’s keep this up

All-in-all, I definitely like this method. I have a very clean Inbox which functions as a to-do list. I have really cut down on the amount of emails I read - simply by acknowledging that most of them don’t relate to me at all. I’m definitely going to keep up with this method.