Why You Suck At Managing Email

Inbox zero, spam filters, priority inboxes: we use countless tricks to manage email, but it can be a never-ending cycle of stress. An article on dealing with email at the BBC Future site suggests it's just as much a psychological problem as it is a technical one.

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The post explains that we get a thrill out of receiving email for two major reasons. Firstly we like reciprocity — when we respond to a positive action with another positive action. In terms of email, it's all about the underlying subtext.

When someone sends you an email, it also means they're interested in what you have to say, and you want to respond to that. You may not be able to control the emotions, but the 2-2-2 Rule of responding right away is a good way to make your approach to email more disciplined.

Secondly, a key psychological issues is "responsibility pressure". In regular conversation, when someone says something to you, you should respond. With email, this means you feel the need to read it and respond, even if that's not entirely necessary. The post explains:

Nowhere is this more apparent than the group email and the avalanche of replies that invariably ensues. Strike back by reminding yourself that not all email has to be replied to, that lots of issues will be — and should be — dealt with by other people. Ask yourself: "If I didn't have this information in my inbox, would I go out looking for it?" Most of the time the answer is probably "no", and that's a sign that someone else is controlling your attention.

The solution? When the answer is "no," delete the email and move on. Remember, email isn't a filing cabinet, and the quicker you get through it, the less hassle you'll have in the long run. Head over to the full post for a breakdown of what's going on in your head when you're dealing with email.

Email: A psychological course [BBC Future]


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