Over the past week there have been a slew of articles on email, especially considering we are coming up on the 30th anniversary of email. What is often being discussed is the problems that email has created (as well as the problems email has solved), but there has been more talk about how we must work to “tame” email in order to fix the problems that it creates.

But the problem isn’t email. Email doesn’t need to be tamed. The problem, quite simply, is how we treat email.

Individuals and companies treat email in ways that go against the grain of what email should be used for: to communicate in long form without using the phone. It’s not a replacement for the phone, it’s not a means to get in touch with someone immediately. Yet the expectation is that it is – or should be.

People seem to think that since you receive the email almost instantly that you should reply in kind. But for most people (there are some jobs where the work is email management) managing email is an aspect of their job – and a small one at that. Yet it is almost one of the first things we mention that we do during our day.

Think about this: do you wait for the postal worker for all hours, opening and closing the door to check the mail nonstop every day? Of course you don’t. That would be a waste of time and energy. You know when the postal worker arrives (approximately), so if you’re expecting something then you have a general idea of when it will arrive. Because of that, you don’t sit by the door all day waiting. You go about your day, doing the actual work you have on tap rather than let the possibility of an important delivery get in your way.

Do you do the same thing with email? Likely not.

Instead, you keep your email application open, waiting for that imminent notification alert to come so you cna check and see what new thing just got delivered to your inbox.

Perhaps you don’t do this. Perhaps you check email 2–3 times per day, and that’s it. Perhaps you treat email in a way that it allows you to treat your other work better.

Perhaps.

Do you manage your tasks from your email application? Unless you’re using something like ActiveInbox or a similar add-on, then you are using a communication tool as a task management tool. And that doesn’t work.

Do you put Post-It Notes directly (and exclusively) on your phone to remind you of to do items? You may do this for items that require using the phone, but beyond that I highly doubt it. Yet we do this with email applications without even thinking about it in the same way.

The barrier to using a task management application is often because people “feel” or “think” they can use their email application to manage their tasks with folders and the like. You can try, but you won’t be nearly as effective or efficient. I challenge you to use a separate piece of software (or, if you’re using Outlook, use the To Do component) to manage your tasks rather than using your email application to manage your tasks. Stick with it through the initial adjustment, and I bet you’ll see your workflow improve.

So what’s the bottom line?

No matter what email app or service you use, unless you put the discipline and boundaries in place when it comes to using this valuable communication tool, you’re doing it wrong.

So what’s the email problem? It’s not the technology; it’s the people using the technology. And until we fix that email will always appear…broken.

(Photo credit: A Lot of At Signs via Shutterstock)

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