Trying to whittle down an inbox of 130 to 0 is intimidating. You can knock off 20 and it doesn’t feel like you made any progress. It would be useful if an email app had a “help you to get to inbox zero” mode where it would only show you 20 emails at a time. Once you knocked those out, 20 more fill in. This way you can see the progress you are making on a small scale (from 20 to 18 to 13 to 7 to 0) and stay motivated to keep knocking them out on a large scale.
Email has never really been a major problem for me. I tend to receive 20-30 a day, but only one or two are truly actionable emails (most are newsletters or auto-responders letting me know of new comments, etc). At my previous job, I may have received around 35 a day at most. The majority of those were quick questions that I could respond to in less than 2 minutes, so I just took the time to do so.
I keep reading about people’s problems with email, or rather the problems in achieving Inbox Zero, and wonder why people rarely point the fingers at the true culprit in the problem. People are always explaining various techniques on how to prioritize email, delay actions on it, organize it, etc. Rare is it that you find people point out that people need to work on their communication skills better.
In the comments to my post about dimensional language, I was responding to Eugene Farber’s remarks about how email is here to stay, because corporations love email, when I reminded myself of a few other ideas out there that relate to better communication through email.
Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) told the world that email sucks, and introduced people to a new idea called three.sentenc.es. I touched on a bit in my post The Death and Rebirth of Reading. To summarize: email should be no longer than three sentences. Simple and concise is better than long-winded and complicated.
On the other side of the fence, Colin Wright (founder of Ebookling) wrote about how certain ideas require a certain length. This is similar to the argument Seth Godin makes in his book, Linchpin, that art requires a certain medium to come to life fully (ie The Mona Lisa wouldn’t be The Mona Lisa if it was a sculpture). Some ideas are better expressed as books, and some ideas should be brief blog posts (or Twitter messages). After I read his post, I have been re-reading a lot of my material and thinking about whether the length is appropriate or not.
I think a lot of my writing (here and emails) tends to be on the long side, so I want to re-evaluate how I function online. I put in the title “500 Words or Less” as a challenge, like I did in my review of REWORK. But also as a way to start a new series of posts exploring ideas in a briefer manner.