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Email Overload: Inbox Whack-a-Mole and Archiving

If you’re like many in the corporate world, you probably spend a substantial amount of time triaging your email. Afraid to miss an important email, you likely use a combination of rules, folders, flags, and categories in your triage. Some of you are “filers,” placing email neatly in a carefully organized set of folders — arranged by project, by topic, or perhaps by individual. Many of you are “pilers,” letting email pile up in your inbox and constantly trying to get through as much of it as you can. If you’ve been doing this for years, you’ll know that there are parallels between email triage and playing a Whack-a-Mole game.

While many have taken a behavioral approach to the issue, throwing end-user training at the email overload problem, numerous third-party players have come up with software solutions to help you triage your email. ClearContext allows you to prioritize your contacts, provides prioritized views into your inbox, and allows you to defer entire conversations for future processing (my favorite feature). Our friends at Xobni flip things around and show you a person-centric view of who you communicate with most, what attachments you last shared with that individual, and that person’s pertinent contact information (with Skype and calendaring integration). The guys at Sperry Software sell add-ins like their Reply To All Monitor to tackle things one feature at a time.

But we want more. It’s not enough to simply move things around our inboxes. Why not work with the archiving vendors and move data straight to the archive instead of to myriad folders in the inbox? Why not create a pseudo-quarantine folder in the archive -– for all those emails from the help desk, from mailing lists and alerting applications, and similar corporate “spam” — which expires data after 30 days if not dealt with? Help us get the email out of our inboxes, and then dispose of it rapidly if we haven’t looked at it.

And why not help the addicts to overcome their email addictions?

David Sengupta

One Comment

  1. Posted July 30, 2008 at 11:13 PM | Permalink

    Excellent post. I’m VERY biased (running an archiving SaaS company) but I do believe that folder-ing is a no-win battle. Though I did love Whac-a-mole as a kid! :)

  2. Posted August 1, 2008 at 11:32 AM | Permalink

    Actually, the “quarantine folder” idea is one I’ve been using and evangelizing for a long time. The way I do it, I have a folder that auto purges mail after 5 weeks (better than 30 days – this ensures monthly mailings will always have the most recent version on the folder). I feed this folder manually with any incoming message that I hesitate for more than 5 seconds whether to delete it or not (typically meaning I don’t really need it but am afraid I may have to refer to it in a few days, say if the sender calls me about it).

    If you’re interested in Email Overload, check out our newly launched Information Overload Research Group (http://www.iorgforum.org) – you may want to join and participate in the action!

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