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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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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on November 3, 2020

    20 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

    20 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

    Whether you use your Mac for work or just for your personal projects, you’ve likely found yourself wondering how to improve your productivity. There are only so many hours in a day, and so much mental stamina you can muster before you run out.

    There are dozens of tricks you can use to improve your own productivity and outlook, but if you’re looking for a more objective, comprehensive fix, the best thing to do is equip your Mac with productivity apps designed to help you do more in less time.

    This Lifehack-exclusive list has some of the best productivity apps to help you feel less tired, improve your energy, and ultimately help you get more done every day.

    What Makes For the Best Productivity Apps?

    Beyond productivity tips, there are dozens of productivity apps to choose from too. With that in mind, here are some of the core aspects of ideal productivity apps that have formed this list.

    • Non-intrusive – you want a productivity app to weave seamlessly into your workflow and not cause disruptions. From using the app to the overall display, it shouldn’t cause any interruptions.
    • Good interface – Again, you want to be able to use these apps easily and have them benefit you. The easier you can navigate around these apps, the better.
    • Fair pricing – Many of these have free trials that allow you a good chance to test before you buy. If you do decide to pay for it, the monthly pricing plans should be reasonable for what you are getting.

    1. Todoist

      Available for all iOS devices, Todoist is a note-taking and organization app that can keep you on top of all your projects—both personal and professional.

      Its best features are all free to use, including browser extensions, task creation, and interactive boards you can use to organize all your notes.

      If you want to pay the optional $29 yearly fee, you can get even more advanced features like backups and automatic reminders. Even with the free version, you’ll stay far more organized.

      Download: Todoist

      2. 1Password

        You may not realize it, but you probably spend a ton of time recalling your passwords, especially if and when you forget one to an app you use on a regular basis.

        1Password is an app for Mac that saves and remembers all your passwords for you in one place, so you can access all your favorite sites with a single click.

        You’ll save time and keep all your accounts secure simultaneously. A personal plan is $2.99 per month.

        Download: 1Password

        3. Bear

          Bear is a unique kind of note-taking app designed to make it easier for Mac users to jot down notes on the go. With it, you can create to-do lists, give yourself reminders, and outline concepts for future brainstorming sessions.

          It comes with many different inline styles so you can customize your notes to your personal preferences, and remember the context in which you wrote them. The core version is free, with a $14.99 per year version available as well.

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          Download: Bear

          4. Hazel

            Hazel by noodlesoft is an automated organization tool designed for Mac that will help you automatically organize your files based on any custom rules you want to create.

            For example, you can set it to move untouched items from one folder into another folder labeled “action items” if they haven’t been addressed within a week. It can save you hours of organization over the course of a few weeks. A single license is a flat $32.

            Download: noodlesoft

            5. Alfred

              Alfred is an all-in-one app designed to save you time with Mac shortcuts and convenient custom actions. You can use it in a variety of ways.

              For example, you can access Alfred’s clipboard memory so you don’t copy and paste the same material over and over, or set up custom workflows to automate some of your most repetitive tasks.

              It’s a paid app, with multiple price points based on the features you desire.

              Download: Alfred

              6. TextExpander

                TextExpander does exactly what the name suggests; it allows you to type a short snippet of text, and expand that text automatically.

                For example, you can create a custom expansion that allows you to conjure a full paragraph you type repeatedly by simply typing a unique abbreviation. Once you get used to your custom combinations, you’ll spare your fingers from typing thousands of words.

                An individual account is $3.33 per month.

                Download: TextExpander

                7. Backblaze

                  If you’ve ever experienced a crash, or theft of your Mac, you know how much time a system restore can cost you. You’ll spend hours replacing the files you lost, and lose thousands of files that are irreplaceable.

                  Backblaze is an automated, inexpensive way to back up your entire Mac for just $5 a month.

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                  Download: Backblaze

                  8. Keyboard Maestro

                    Keyboard Maestro is an older app that still has the power to make your life easier. With it, you can automate any number of tasks based on a certain trigger (such as a hotkey combination, or an event like connecting to a wireless network). A single license only costs $36.

                    Download: Keyboard Maestro

                    9. Snagit

                      There are many applications for a good screen-capture app, whether you’re trying to illustrate a tech problem you have or just want to make an interesting meme. Snagit makes it easy, with built-in editing for both still images and video. A single license covers two machines, and costs $49.95.

                      Download: TechSmith/Snagit

                      10. Bartender

                        Bartender is the cleverly-named app that helps you clean up and organize all your menu bar icons. You can also access them quickly with keyboard shortcuts.

                        If you’re like most Mac users, those icons get cluttered quickly and stop you from working efficiently. It’s free to try for 4 weeks, after which you’ll need a $15 license.

                        Download: Bartender

                        11. Otter

                        Otter is the Mac app for the note taker who hates typing. It’s an intelligent voice-recognition system and note-taking app that will help you transcribe your conversations, keep notes during meetings, and even take contextual notes to yourself in your own time.

                        Best of all, it’s free to get started!

                        Download: Otter

                        12. Flux

                          Do you often find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, or feeling unable to get to sleep after a day of staring at your computer? That could be because of the unnatural blue light that radiates from your Mac.

                          Flux naturally adapts your display to emit light that matches the time of day, so you can sleep better and feel less tired. It’s also free!

                          Download: Flux

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                          13. PDFpen

                          If you deal with PDFs on a regular basis, you probably find yourself wishing for some kind of tool that can let you mark up those PDFs however you want. Without a dedicated app like PDFpen, this can be difficult.

                          PDFpen lets you edit PDFs in almost any conceivable way, giving you more power and saving you time. A single license is $74.95.

                          Download: Smile Software/PDFpen

                          14. OmniFocus

                            OmniFocus is all about task management. It has a clean interface that allows you to tag your tasks, schedule events, and even automate certain features.

                            It’s one of the most comprehensive solutions on the market, so there’s a bit of a learning curve to get the most out of it.

                            A standard license is $39.99, while the pro version is $79.99.

                            Download: OmniFocus

                            15. Franz

                              It’s tiring to switch between dozens of different chat programs like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp, whenever you want to have a conversation with a different contact.

                              Franz’s solution is simple; offer access to all these apps in one convenient package. And best of all, it’s completely open source.

                              Download: Franz

                              16. MindNode

                                If you’re the brainstorming type, you need an app like MindNode to help you efficiently organize your thoughts. There are dozens of tools you can use to connect ideas in a mind map, or simply jot down notes for future reference.

                                The core app is free, with in-app purchases available.

                                Download: MindNode

                                17. Focus

                                  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can be awfully distracting. And if you’re like the majority of us, you’ve interrupted work on a project because of some attention-grabbing site or bad online habit. That’s where Focus comes in.

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                                  This app allows you to block the worst offenders with custom time limits and other constraints, so you can focus on the task at hand. A single license is $19.99.

                                  Download: Focus

                                  18. CleanMyMac

                                    Chances are, your Mac isn’t working as fast as it could, thanks to gigabytes of clutter and unnecessary files on your system. CleanMyMac helps you scan your Mac, monitor its health, and ultimately clean it up—so you can handle all your tasks that extra bit faster. A single license is $39.95.

                                    Download: CleanMyMac

                                    19. Grammarly

                                      A spelling error or grammatical mistake can cost you big time. It could be the source of a worse grade on a big paper, or compromise your credibility in the workplace. Thankfully, Grammarly can help you.

                                      This Mac-integrated writing assistant monitors all your writing and makes live corrections, so you’re alerted to your potential mistakes before they become permanent.

                                      A free version exists, but the premium version will cost you between $11 and $30 a month, depending on how you pay.

                                      Download: Grammarly

                                      Focus To Do

                                        Focus to-do is one of the top productivity apps for your iPhone around. It even has a desktop client that you can connect to effortlessly. The app is built around two things: the Pomodoro technique and task management. It achieves these things with amazing balance. All that you have to do is create a task and then set the timer right within the app itself.

                                        There is also great flexibility with the Pomodoro technique as well. You can choose whether to take a 5 minute break, take a longer one, or even skip it. On the task management side, you can also create reoccurring tasks, reminders, and place a priority on tasks too.

                                        Download: Focus To Do

                                        The Bottom Line

                                        These productivity apps should help you squeeze more productive hours out of every day, but they aren’t the only tools you’ll have to help you find success.

                                        Make the time to learn about and experiment with all the life hacks that can make you more productive. By improving your devices as well as your outlook and focus, you’ll be able to get far more done in a day, and feel better doing it.

                                        More to Boost Productivity

                                        Featured photo credit: Patrick Ward via unsplash.com

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