Drowning in email?

There’s been a flurry of recent articles on the email overload problem and the strategies companies are taking to thwart it. We can all relate to that anxious feeling of picking up our iPhone, Android tablet, or firing up email on our laptop and thinking – gulp – “How many messages am I behind now.” Like clockwork, my personal inbox comes with just as many unread messages as yesterday. So much for catching up. Maybe tomorrow.

The problem of email overload is as old as email. I remember being awestruck at the idea of sending an email instead of a letter, or making a call and thinking how much more efficient I’d be with this new technology. Now, as email overload surges in headlines, it makes me wonder why this technology category lacks innovation. Why, when email overload translates into lost productivity at work and that never-caught-up feeling at home, have we had to become email folder jockeys and rule experts or accept the status quo?

I know one thing. While I can relate to Tamar Weinberg’s post about her 13 email accounts (I went the same route to bring order to my personal email inbox), and I respect her impressive email workflow in Gmail to find some sanity, I’ll never hit what she describes as “email zero.” Not only is it not in my pack rat DNA to clear anything out of my personal inbox, the geek in me doesn’t want to let technology off the hook on this one. I’ve spent most of my career surrounded by ultra-smart entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and I know technology is up to the task of doing the heavy lifting for me. I know it is capable of presenting information the way an average email user thinks.

In my simple personal world, the framework I think about for email has two parts: emails I use for transactional purposes with companies (receipts, offers, frequent flyer statements), and correspondence (those I need to stay informed, respond to or collaborate on with others).

Work email infrastructure aside, the thorn in my side at the moment is my personal email. How is it possible many of us resort to creating a slew of dedicated email accounts to keep everything straight? My feeble attempt at solving this was creating separate email personas, like one for my shopping-related messages, one for my news and alerts and so on. I kept thinking, there must be an app for this. Then a friend turned me on to ZigMail.

The issue is getting a lot of play in the B2B world. I read a recent post on ZDnet from Tim Walters at Forrester Research about how one company is addressing the email overload issue. French company Atos plans to ban email in 18 months, saying only 10% of emails their employees get is useful. Pretty bleak. I get a lot of messages that aren’t useful at work and at home, but I’m certainly not willing to ban email. Are you?

I agree with Tim’s conclusion that “Email isn’t evil” and that it has a place when it’s not abused. I think the solution is two-fold: give consumers technology tools to take back control of their inboxes and hold email senders accountable for using email properly. TechCrunch picked up the Atos story as well, where I think Jon Orlin nails it by saying, “Yes, many of us really hate email overload.” But, he added, “If email served no useful purpose, we wouldn’t use it.”

There’s an explosion of innovation in this space led by companies like ZigMail that are democratizing solutions to de-clutter our inboxes. Presenting messages from companies I want to do business with in a simple, organized way has helped me easily find offers, receipts and account alerts and take action. Imagine that! A little time alpha-testing a free piece of software and my email has become useful again.

This cool little idea is bound to get out. Are you ahead of the curve? Try ZigMail (it’s free) and if your friends ask why you don’t hate email, tell them, well, there’s finally an app for that!

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