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Deconstructing Email Overload - Part 1

September 22, 2010

There’s lots of talk about email overload these days. The release of Gmail’s Priority Inbox has brought new attention to the issue, but people have been discussing the problem for years in academia, press, blogs, etc.

Plenty of vendors are creating solutions to address email overload. Gmail organizes your high priority email. OtherInbox organizes your low priority email. Boxbe tries to do a little of both. Xobni’s solution starts with your contacts, and Kwaga’s through automated tagging… the list goes on and on.

Additionally, there are behavioral approaches advocated by bloggers and productivity gurus alike. We can declare email bankruptcy and just start over, which would probably cause 98% of us to lose our jobs. We can try to get to Inbox Zero, but like Tetris, the emails just keep coming. Some advise turning email off completely, while others advocate messages with only three.sentenc.es... again, the list goes on.

So with all of this attention on email overload, why do we still feel overloaded?

Our take is that there is no single cause to email overload, and thus, no silver bullet to be found. We believe that email overload, or more accurately, the “feelings of being overloaded,” are due to many different factors stacked one upon another.

There’s another side to this story that we believe gets overlooked: productivity. Since the inbox is the nexus of work activity, a common pitfall is to equate inbox productivity with work productivity. Emptying your inbox may feel satisfying, but at the end of the day, did it move the needle at work? To properly address overload we must also enhance productivity, in the same way we would combine losing weight with better nutrition, sleep and exercise.

In the upcoming Postbox 2 release, we’re systematically addressing some of the key contributors to overload, while helping people become more efficient and productive. We’ll discuss the details in the next post.

Posted by Postbox