Email Woes … and the answer to my woes?

July 5, 2007 at 12:18 pm 3 comments

I have spent the better part of the last 5 days at work writing emails, responding to emails, trying to delete as much email as possible, organizing email, and so on. I used to absolutely love email when I first started using it 15 years or so ago. Now, not so much. In fact, I would have to say that at this very moment that email is my arch-nemesis.

I have long thought about declaring email bankruptcy, but I know that this is not really a viable option for a variety of reasons. Still, I dream about actually doing it one day and can imagine that it would feel very liberating.

In the not too distant past I had a rule of thumb for my inbox at work: No more than 100 messages at any given time and I was not allowed to leave on Friday until I was below my 100 quota. Messages either had to be answered, deleted or filed. The ones that remained were generally there for a good reason.

My current inbox is suffering from a severe case of bloat — both in terms of the number of messages that it contains and the length of those messages. I generally have in excess of 1,000 messages in my inbox and at the current moment I am approaching 1,600 (largely due to the email that accumulated during annual in DC). This does not include my spam or junk folders, this is legitimate email. My email flood began last summer when I took over as Program Coordinator at MPOW. I never imagined that organizing programs for a library would require such intense email efforts (and I will leave my rant about voice mail for another day).

Since I feel unable to surrender to email bankruptcy, I am thinking that the Web Worker Daily has delivered my solution to me : Stop being “Nice”. A light bulb went on as soon as I read the following:

We’re suffering from outdated rules and expectations about email that don’t work in our email-saturated world. Perhaps short emails without extra niceties are not just acceptable but preferable in our connected world on the web. Now that we have better ways of connecting on a human level (think IM, IRC, blogging) maybe we can put email back into its rightful place as merely a convenient way of communicating when we don’t have a real time connection..

… for getting work done on a daily basis, we could all benefit from an email etiquette that calls for short and to-the-point messages.


I admit that I am guilty of being “nice” in many of my email transactions and perhaps this is what is really slowing my productivity down. I am going to work on being a little less nice and a lot more to the point in my email from now on. Any tips on how I can accomplish this would be appreciated — oh, and if anyone else wants to share the bloat of their inbox it might be interesting to see how many of us our caught in the flood.


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  • 1. Lisa Coats  |  July 10, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Janie, it looks like no one was willing to tackle replying to this post. Sorry about that since I’d love some suggestions myself! I am definitely too nice in my email exchanges. I still feel it’s an important mode of communication and I worry about sounding too terse or rude, and I even stress about my grammar. I’m a little more anal than you in the sense that I freak out if my In Box has more than 20 messages left at the end of a day. I try to reply, delete or file all of them that I can, but this does take a lot of time. I’ve taken to having listserv emails that are not crucial go directly into a file for later reading. Then, when I’m on the desk on a slow night, I go through them. That’s my only ‘suggestion’ however and I hope others will comment soon!

  • 2. Janie L. Hermann  |  July 12, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Thanks for replying Lisa.
    I did finally manage to get my inbox below 1,000 yesterday, but it took way to much time for my liking.
    I tried having certain messages go directly to file folders, but then I find I never get around to reading them or I miss a deadline.
    As for being a little less verbose in my emails, I fear I am failing. I think the need to be polite is just a part of who I am.

  • 3. Amy J. Kearns, MLIS  |  July 14, 2007 at 10:22 am

    But even if we are not spending time being “nice” in our own emails, we still have to read all the other ones! 😉

    EVERYONE will have to stop the extra niceties in order for this to succeed.

    I have one inbox that I was trying to keep to 50 at a time – no matter what – like you have yours at 100 – but miss a few days and it quickly swells to an unmanageable amount (this is a personal and fun inbox so it isn’t full of anything really important or for work or anything, and I have given up at this point b/c I think that one is over 500 now!)

    I’m not sure what to do exactly – I’d love to find out as well…. Personally, I think my problem is a lot that I just try to keep too much in there… I’m pretty “on top” of dealing with them in a timely manner – I just keep almost everything! 😉

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