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Gini Dietrich

The Ever-Looming Inbox

By: Gini Dietrich | February 15, 2012 | 
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During this week’s Inside PR (yet to be posted), Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I discuss the ever-looming inbox.

You see, I’m a “get it cleaned out every day” kind of person. Having unopened, unread, or unanswered emails makes me nuts.

Mr. D makes fun of me. He says no one else in the whole world uses email the way I do. Sure, I’ll admit I’m a little OCD about it.

But email is a problem. For all of us.

Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist in New York City, wrote a blog post last week titled, “The Black Hole of Email.” In it he laments how he spends about three hours every day on email.

I have never ever been so behind on email as I am right now. I believe I am seeing about one third of all email that is sent to me. I write these posts occasionally to let people know. The result is hundreds of comments about how I can make email work better for me. Please don’t leave those comments. I don’t want to make email work better for me. I don’t want to hire an assistant to do email for me. I don’t want to try some new magical app that will make email better for me.

I give email an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening, and I dive into it throughout the day. The result is probably three hours a day in total. That’s all I’m going to give email. And it is not enough to manage the inbound flow.

Curious, I looked at my timesheet for the past month to see how much time I’m spending on email every day. It’s about two hours every day, but that doesn’t count the emails I quickly answer throughout the day. If I had to guess, it’d be close to the three hours Fred spends.

It’s a topic of conversation during every one of our staff meetings. My inbox is getting unwieldy and I don’t want to be a bottleneck for my team, especially while I’m on the road.

Sometimes there are quick questions that can be answered via text or one of the social networks. But other times there are strategic reviews or approvals that cannot be delegated. And all of that comes via email.

But what is really interesting about this exercise, and what Joe, Martin, and I discuss during the podcast, is not one person manages email the same.

For instance, I prefer one email at the end of every day that includes everything my colleagues need from me. Other members of my team prefer an email for every, little thing so they can save and file appropriately.

It’s definitely not a one size fits all approach. But it’s an issue for every, single one of us that no amount of organization will help. Heck, I have Patti Knight, who sorts through things, and it’s still out of control.

I wish I had a magical answer on how to control it. I don’t. Which is why it’s a topic in every one of our staff meetings.

But I do now know not everyone manages it the same. Because of that, it’s important to consider how your colleagues, peers, and friends manage their inboxes…and be considerate. Just because it’s easy to send an email doesn’t always mean you should.

Also please, for the love all of things good, stop using the reply all button.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

77 comments
KyleAkerman
KyleAkerman

I actually just started the process of organizing my gmail account yesterday. I'm still not anywhere near the goal of Inbox Zero, but I am regaining some control over new emails. Using filters, multiple inboxes and reviewing emails during set times each day definitely helps.

geoffliving
geoffliving

I, too, am zero in box. Had to clear everything out by Sunday night after vacation even. Cannot live with red alert flags on the email icon.

penneyfox
penneyfox

This conversation is cracking me up! Think we can all agree that the reply all button must be banished to some place where the outdated programs go to die.

Funny thing about this that I do schedule calls/return calls to certain times of day to stop the interruptions. Most people who work with me know this but I still get the occasional, 'why do I always get your voice mail?' Never thought about doing this for my emails ... it would probably save me a couple of hours every day.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

I, too, once had OCD inboxitis... But then I joined facebook and Twitter and started commenting on blogs. Now only have 4,238 (make that 4,240) unread messages in my social media fluff inbox. Sure, I've read most of the subject lines... But I'm sure there are at least a dozen or so messages that I'd probably regret not reading. My "solution" that I implemented a few weeks back is a new "important" email address that I only give to colleagues and people I may do business with. Since I'm not famous or high demand outside my day job, I've been able to read all 3 emails received there! Woot Woot!

colinmorris
colinmorris

inboxzero.com
43folders.com

You're right about one thing: Email is a problem.

gojohnab
gojohnab

I only go into email a few times a day to help manage my time. I have too much of a pavlovian response to keep my inbox open and not respond to every flash window and ding. (yes I know you can turn those things off!) Most people know my approach and understand that email does not mean urgent to me. We have an internal IM system where co-workers can reach me and I use other chat's for instant comms if needed...oh yeah and we have this other gadget a phone. Calling and coming into my office are still the "need it now" requests. Email is FYI, this needs review and/or attention for a response in my book, ideally in short order, but not immediate.

The epidemic of CCmania (don't get me started on the red exclamation virus) makes it hard to stay productive and on top of email and still be productive.

One of the funniest things I ever heard from Peter Shankman was "email bankruptcy" and there are days where it is tempting! If not bankruptcy at least a reorganization of email debt:)

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

I wish we could write a program that would magically delete the "reply all" option from the email system of every person I correspond with ... ESPECIALLY the hockey dads on Connor's team. I so wish they would keep their frat boy silliness to themselves! GEEZ!

I keep on top of email too, and Dave is worse (although he gets far more than I do). He is like you, cant stand the drip, drip of emails for every little thing. He looses stuff that way. He wants you to condense as much as possible into a few a day (1 would be ideal for him, but probably not reality).

I agree with @Glenn Ferrell 24 hr response time is a MUST!

Glenn Ferrell
Glenn Ferrell

What a great opportunity to gripe about email ! I'm with you, I clear my email probably 3 times a day. All my working life I lived by the rule that emails have to be answered in 24 hours. So why doesn't everybody else live by our rules ? Sheesh :)

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

Guess what? They're only bloody letters or memos. Remember them? In those ancient hard copy days, you answered some immediately, you referred some to others, you sought others' advice for some, you put some aside for a longer and deeper look , you even chucked some straight into the bin and, and, and.........you even delegated some!

And every time something new lobbed into your in- tray you didn't drop everything else and read it.

Email is demanding. But it's worthwhile remembering that at least half the stuff we get is because we asked for it.

Two little tips: at least every 3 months cull you list of incoming emails. Unsubscribe from those that you feel you don't get value from any more----for whatever reason. If that upset Marcus and Danny, blame the curmudgeon from Down Unda.

Second, remember that email management is a time management issue. The Platinum Rule of time management, according to the CFDU is this; If you can't delegate you can't manage your time. The corollary to the Platinum Rule is: there's no such thing as a manager who can't delegate. There are only managers who wont. These days, they mostly blame emails.

Y'know, sitting with my PC telling people what they really oughta be doing is great fun!

Best Wishes

Leon

Ben Johnston
Ben Johnston

I know the feeling - I've got a bit of a system for managing my inbox, although it may not work for everyone. Weirdly enough, I posted it on my blog last night - you can find it at http://2feetfromfreedom.co.uk/2012/02/getting-to-inbox-zero-staying-there/ if you're interested (not spamming!)Basically, I assign myself "Email Times" throughout the day and unless it's vital, I don't reply or read any mails outside those times (if it is really important, chances are a colleague will yell in my direction), pop the ones I've got to reply to into Wunderlist and tick them off as I go. It might not work for everyone, but it lets me stay productive throughout the day while still getting my emails taken care of.

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

This is a fascinating post for me. I am not in an industry that relies heavily on email and so I can't even BEGIN to imagine having to spend 3 hours a day on just emails...I'd tear my hair out....So, at the risk of being made fun of, I have a question. In your industry, what did email replace? Did people spend 3+ hours on the phone? Did they spend 3+ hours typing letters? How did the out-of-control in-box get to this point? Do we need to redefine our definition of responsiveness? The stress factor that you and most of the commenters share seems overwhelming! Are we as customers that demanding and egocentric that we think our needs deserve to be taken care of immediately? Are we no longer patient? I apologize for the questions as opposed to a comment but I truly am perplexed. Three hours of email time seems so wasteful of your precious time. So, what DID your industry do before email? Or did email and our self serving impatience sort of evolve concomitantly? And, BTW....I truly had NO idea how much email flooded your inbox. I SO hope that I have never been a clogger. If anything was learned from this post, for me it was to be VERY cognizant of the time that I am now occupying in the reader's day when I send an email and for me to be very respectful of that.

TheJackB
TheJackB

You do know that this is the kind of post that encourages me to email you throughout the day with all sorts of useful notes:

"Dear Gini, I just wanted to see how long it would take you to respond."

"Dear Gini, can Jack Bauer come out and play?"

"Dear Gini, I can't find the salt, do you have any idea where I put it?"

"Dear Gini, am I the only one emailing you like this?

I used to be great about responding to every email I receive but now I have reached a point where there simply isn't time to get to all of them. It is part of why I have multiple email boxes. It helps me organize them based on importance.

abarcelos
abarcelos

My success has been addressing email as it comes in (quick reply, delete, and "star" for later) with the goal (daily) of Inbox Zero. So far so good. I can't think when my Inbox has a lot of email. Some folks let it pile to 1,000's. I wouldn't be able to sleep. I am also beginning to think that folders are a waste of my time because I rarely (unless it's a client email folder) go back in those folders. I've also had issues in the past where my computer died and I lost all my email. You know what? I never needed them later! So you live and you learn. But...that's just me.

PattiRoseKnight
PattiRoseKnight

I hate the reply to all feature. I rarely reply to all. If I did all Gini would do all day is delete emails.

Shonali
Shonali

I am SO with you on the "reply all" button. UGH UGH UGH UGH UGH!!!!

i signed up for Boomerang for Gmail a while back, and love it. While it doesn't get rid of the clutter in my inbox completely (sorting & filters help with those, though), it lets me schedule emails to be sent out at a later date/time. So if I'm up early, as I usually am, and checking email, I can rip through a ton of them that need replies, but then schedule them to go out later (clients don't need to get used to me emailing them at 5 am). It's brilliant. I'm pretty sure it works with Outlook too, so you might want to give it a try. There's a free version, but I upped it to a reasonable paid version that lets me schedule more replies.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is tough I have pages of unread emails. 99% are trade pub news since I get about 70 per day most I don't open some I save and open later. Others languish. Thus the reason for a great Subject line!

But I make sure all business are cared for each day.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@penneyfox Reply all sucks! Isn't it funny how we all hate it and yet it still gets used?

I once saw a speaker who said, "The phone is there for your convenience, not for whomever wants to interrupt your day." The same could be said for email.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon I don't have an issue with managing my emails. I have an issue with the sheer number I receive. That's why I like the one a day from each member of my team instead of 20 or 30 from each of them. The other thing I learned is when you unsubscribe to newsletters you never subscribed to, you're added to other lists. It's really awful. And spammy.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SocialMediaDDS As long as I've been in the professional field, we've had email. So I have no idea what was done before. I would guess lots of phone calls and meetings. Which take more than three hours a day. So maybe I shouldn't complain!

TheJackB
TheJackB

@SocialMediaDDS Patience is something that people have less of than they used to. My phone is an electronic leash. People expect to have immediate access and when they don't they start to get crazy about it.It sounds silly, but response time has turned into a game because you have to train people to expect some lag time in your reply.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB I see you here and on Facebook joking about sending me emails. It's OK. I don't feel badly about deleting your emails.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@abarcelos I'm like that too - not able to sleep with all those emails in my inbox. Where it really hurts me is when I'm on the road. They just pile up and I can't do anything about them.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@PattiRoseKnight Seriously. And I love the ones you take me off and the person puts me back on. People! I don't need these emails.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Shonali Yeah - I do that. I schedule all sorts of emails, especially when I'm on the road. But that doesn't cut down on the sheer number I get every day. It's really ridiculous.

gojohnab
gojohnab

@HowieG I created a special gmail address to send ALL trade pub alerts, social media registrations and everything that isn't client related "must-respond". This way, while the information is important, I don't have the clutter in my inbox and I can go retrieve them and digest them when I have time without having anxiety about missing potentially vital work emails due to the added volume.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Danny Brown Weird. We tend to ignore anything from Danny Brown, no matter the email address.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

@ginidietrich well, the trouble with that is you've already reached a level of fame and since it's your work email, you'll probably miss more than a recommended amount of important stuff. But hey, it works for me... So if you want 4,000+ neglected emails, you should give it a shot. Just don't keep your secret email TOO much of a secret or then you'll be bored ;)

PattiRoseKnight
PattiRoseKnight

@ginidietrich@Shonali email gets out of control at AD that is for sure. If my inbox has over 200 emails I stop what I'm doing (as long as it's not urgent) and clean out my inbox.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@KenMueller@ginidietrich@TheJackB@Danny Brown Actually, I saw Ken's idea in my inbox before I saw Gini's response to it when I came over here, and I came to say the same thing: To be a killjoy and Kibosh that idea immediately.

That would push my Gini over the edge.

#newlywedgame (inside joke)

Trackbacks

  1. […] I know I’m not alone in struggling with email. Fred Wilson recently wrote about The Black Hole of Email and MG Siegler ranted that he Still F***ing Hate[s] Email.  And in this week’s Inside PR, Martin Waxman and Gini Dietrich share their frustrations with email and also what they do to try to manage it.  Gini also has written her own take on the ever-looming inbox. […]

  2. […] Check your email inbox – I’m not an “Inbox Zero” kinda guy. That means I have a lot of emails sitting there in my inbox, some of which are conversations in progress, others of which are there to be dealt with at a later […]