Monday, November 5, 2007

All The E-Mail That's Fit To Read

The New York Times published an article on combating distractions caused by e-mail. Among other charming bits of advice, it contains this tidbit:

Most organizational experts suggest setting aside two or three times a day to check e-mail.

Great idea! Let's extend it further. Hey restaurant chefs! Don't bother cooking all the orders as they come in, just hold on to them and cook two or three times a night! It will make it much easier to prep the ingredients, monitor cooking time, etc. etc.

The Times' advice may be useful for folks who work in mostly offline jobs, and who use e-mail as a general communication tool- like someone processing mortgage applications, or a photographer. However, I wager most of the people suffering from e-mail overload are information workers like myself- and separating 'e-mail' from 'work' is simply not possible.

This Times article is the latest in a long line of proposals and articles around managing e-mail overload - including a concept posted by my brother, of non-essential emails with an expiration date. I still believe the key is in a basic revision of e-mail interfaces, which haven't changed substantially since I first installed Eudora on my Mac IIcx in 1993.

Why can't e-mail programs:
  • learn who I consider to be important senders?
  • automatically tag and create views for grouped messages?
  • automatically condense redundant information within messages (like signatures repeated ad infinitum in long reply chains)
  • adjust their views dynamically based on how many messages are in my inbox?
  • allow me to file messages in more than one folder or hierarchy?
  • condense a long string of replies into a single, BlackBerry friendly compendium message that dynamically updates?
  • provide me with an insights panel like Quicken so I can get a snapshot of email activity (hot threads, reply percentage, aging for drafts, etc.)

I could go on. Given the obvious demand for such an improvement (as evidenced by the never ending stream of 'Cure e-mail overload' articles) you'd think some enterprising application developers would come up with solutions that aren't worse than the problem they're trying to solve. I've got some ideas around fixing it, but they will have to wait until I get over the annihilation of my spare time due to my new job and newborn son... hopefully he won't be stuck with the same ineffective interface by the time I'm e-mailing from the nursing home to complain that he never SuperPokes me anymore.

1 comment:

Marie said...

Bravo for an intelligent response to the Times advice.