January 20, 2008 7:37 pm /Zeitgeist /2 Comments

a busy brainThis article from the Globe and Mail declares what most of us know already: we're all inundated with email and other communications.
The phrase email bankruptcy I'm led to believe was coined was recently popularized by internet marketer/blogger Vanessa Fox. Her inbox ballooned up to 30,000 messages that we not responded to, whereby she declared she was email bankrupt. Those messages would NEVER receive a reply.

Over the Christmas holidays I read an article in Atlantic Monthly about the pitfalls of multi-tasking. In short, the brain has only so much room for analyzing information before it spills over into where the brain handles rote behaviour.
The end result is that you make more mistakes, and the quality of your work suffers.
As far as I was concerned, there was a definite link between too much email, and technology that makes it too easy to do too many things at once. Something has to give.

I would have to set aside hours just to review, sort and file email messages according to category. Very. Time. Consuming.

What if you could just rid email from your life? Ha! It just doesn't seem possible. The only person I've heard of in recent months without an email address (and isn't dead) is retired, successful, wealthy and couldn't care less if it's hard to reach him. He doesn't even have a phone answering machine.
What are some preventative steps you can take to avoid email bankruptcy?
This advice is courtesy of the New York Times:

  • “I will not e-mail someone and then two seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.”
  • “I will read my own e-mails before sending them to make sure they are comprehensible to others.”
  • “I will not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail, especially one word replies such as “Thanks!” or “Great!” and will use “reply to all” only when absolutely necessary.”

Sameer at Eloquation has his own good advice, which sum up to using many collaborative tools like Google Docs and Google Calendar.
Like Sameer I was using my inbox as a list of items demanding my attention. During very hectic days and weeks my inbox would grow uncontrollably, and I would have to set aside hours just to review, sort and file email messages according to category. Very. Time. Consuming.

My most recent attempt at wrestling the email beast is to adopt Gmail as my primary email delivery system. After a couple of months I just archive old messages, which are still keyword searchable. It's not a perfect solution, but it has decreased some of the stress I've been feeling about email in recent months.

It's still too early to know if this tool is going to help, but I'll write about my findings later this year.

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2 thoughts on “Email bankruptcy and other modern conditions

  1. January 21, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Thanks for linking over to my post Michael! I’ve been working with my friends and colleagues on email volume, and I’m proud to say that though I’m still inundated with email on a daily basis, it is a lot more manageable than before.

  2. January 22, 2008 at 8:07 am

    I didn’t coin the term, although my email woes my have helped popularize it.
    I revisited my email situation not long ago, and don’t know how much I’ve learned.
    http://www.vanessafoxnude.com/2007/10/08/email-bankruptcy-revisited/
    I think limiting how often I process mail may make a difference, so I’m not so interrupt-driven.
    I use Gmail and one problem is that the search doesn’t have stemming functionality and I don’t always remember exactly what words were used in the mail.
    I just got back from vacation, so I’m about to tackle my inbox right now. :)