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July 12 2011

4 Reasons Why Email Overload Is Your Own Fault [OPINION]


This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Nick Mehta is CEO at LiveOffice, where he is an innovator in the cloud-based archiving and search space. You can see the latest company news here and read his blog at blog.liveoffice.com.

Have you heard the one about email being dead? Every month, a new pundit breathlessly pontificates about the evils of email.

“Too many people email me.”

“Too many people copy me on things.”

“I’m tired of constantly checking email.”

Some even go on email strike. Each time, the author points to the latest technology (instant messaging, Groove, SMS, Google Wave, SharePoint, social media, Yammer) as the antidote for our poisonous email addiction.

Email is a symptom of modern information culture. Whereas hierarchy, structure and bureaucracy used to work as a filter that shielded us from the horrors of overload, today’s email is the great democratizer. If you have a brilliant suggestion or an idle complaint, the distance between your idea and a company CEO is the space between the “From” and the “To” fields.

So why all the haters?

I contend that the problems we have with email aren’t about the technology at all — they are about us. So we’d better own up to our core issues, because they’ll follow us no matter which communication medium we use.


1. Loneliness


It’s Saturday morning in your neighborhood, and you’re in line at Starbucks with your family. Why are you checking email on your iPhone?

As much as emails can be annoying, they do make us feel important. Someone wants to talk to us. Remember the Peanuts specials when Charlie Brown would go to his mailbox every day to see if someone sent him a letter?


2. Vanity


Although we’ve all been faced with colleagues who use the “CC” option far too often, are we blameless ourselves?

Perhaps we just want to demonstrate that we’re actually getting things done, or that we are indeed in the know about what’s going on. Whatever the reason, do we consider the effect our message will have on the recipients before thoughtlessly adding to the CC line?


3. Paranoia


And then there’s paranoia.

“I don’t want to be left out.”

“Why was I not copied on that email that I should have known about?”

This aversion to missing out on conversations others are having reinforces our CC addiction.


4. False Productivity


Often, email can be a mindless activity. Answering it gives you quick gratification.

Writing back to people with “thanks” and “great job” is much easier than creating something original from scratch. It’s a way to “get things done” without actually doing anything. This false productivity can be consuming and drain time away from things that actually matter.


Striving for a World With Less Email


We wanted a world of open communication, and we got it. The problem is that openness cuts both ways.

Regardless of the technology, we can address these issues by retraining ourselves and engaging in some serious self-discipline. There are many schools of thought on how to do it and even a grassroots movement that follows TED curator Chris Anderson’s Email Charter.

This is something I consciously work on every day and emphasize in my company. Getting communications right as a society is very simple, and it starts with me as the sender.

“Email unto others as you would have them email unto you.” Or something like that.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Carbon NYC.

More About: email, email management, etiquette, how to, Opinion

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March 31 2011

ActiveInbox Turns Gmail Into a Task Manager

Gmail Stamp Image

Maintaining an empty Gmail inbox should be classified as a superpower. It’s just not something that most humans can do.

But the day when more mortals master the task might be getting closer. ActiveInbox, a Gmail plugin five years in the making, launched a product this week that organizes emails into manageable projects and tasks.

CEO Andy Mitchell based the product on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) productivity philosophy, which aims to “transform personal overwhelm and overload into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.” Its first iterations were hence named GTDGmail and (after a letter from Google’s legal team) GTDEmail.

The first ActiveInbox product is a free plugin for Firefox and Chrome that adds a to-do list and project manager to the left sidebar of Gmail. Users can add items to the list using a task bar that appears at the top of each email. They can mark e-mails as “action,” “waiting on,” or “some day” and add them to a project, similar to the way that Gmail labels work. The plugin also adds new shortcuts, like the ability to look up previous email conversations by simply right-clicking a contact and a button that simultaneously archives a conversation and sends a reply.

activeinbox

ActiveInbox’s paid version, which costs $25 per year, includes the option to tack notes to emails and attach deadlines to messages. The latter option helps keep track of daily and upcoming tasks in the to-do sidebar.

“It’s actually a completely different way at looking at email,” Mitchell says. “What we’re doing is emails as tasks between you and your colleagues.”

Until 2009, he had been running the inbox as a side project while working with another startup. After more than 700 people donated $20,000 to the project, he decided to start working on the project full time.

Through various beta versions of the product, the startup already has collected about 15,000 users, 1,500 of them paying customers.

More About: ActiveInbox, email, email management, gmail, GTDEmail, GTDGmail

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