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The Real Problem with Email

The Real Problem with Email


    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Last Updated on February 15, 2019

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

    Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

    Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

    So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

    Joe’s Goals

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      Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

      Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

      Daytum

        Daytum

        is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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        Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

        Excel or Numbers

          If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

          What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

          Evernote

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            I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

            Evernote is free with a premium version available.

            Access or Bento

              If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

              Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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              You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

              Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

              All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

              Conclusion

              I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

              What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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