Email, you’re doing it wrong

At work I have to deal with email, like other people, too. But I am disatisfied with the current status, we work with email.

In my opinion, email is not that easy to handle, because everybody uses it differently and sees different use cases. Some use it for messaging, chatting, news or as to-do list. I personally prefer messaging, and that’s all. For chat there are plenty of solutions like XMPP, for to-do there are also several programs available (ticket systems, to-do apps), and so on.
At the company, where I currently work, every account (MS Exchange with Outlook) has a quota of 100MB. Now you say, „So, just request more space if the inbox is full“. Yes, I could. But that leads to a problem. If I have more space, say 1 GB (I think that is the maximum you can get), you aquire more and more garbage in your inbox. There is no that big incentive to clean up and spend some thoughts about a good concept how to handle all those informations.
Here is an example:
Nearly every day I get some mails send to all employees, mostly when it is somebody’s birthday (sweets in the kitchen) or when like these days the airport staff is on strike. Most of these mails can be deleted after reading because the information is not important to me. That cleans the thing up a bit.
The second step:
Save attachments on disk. Establish a folder structure where you are able to find those files again fast. Then either delete the mail or save it somewhere where you are able to find it again quickly.
Just a few days ago, I started at the inbox‘ bottom and deleted nearly a complete month of mails, because the information is just outdated. Necessary attachments were saved to disk or attached to articles in the corporate wiki.

JIRA is heavily used for managing user support and that stuff. They configured it in that way, that everytime a ticket is created/updated/closed, a mail is sent to all employees. So you stay up to date about today’s issues.
The problem is, those emails arrive also at your inbox. Everytime you have a look in your mail client, it takes some time to seperate JIRA issues from all the other mails. Here I have the following policy, at first, all those JIRA emails are moved in a seperate folder. So I can decide wheter I want to look at JIRA notifications or at the other stuff. Then it is very easy to delete all JIRA mails after a week or so because in 99% of all cases these mails are unimportant on the next day.

That’s a small step to a better world where email doens’t cause headaches anymore.

I saw it very often, that people have long lists of folders below their inbox where they start to sort their mails by topic, forward them to others, and so on. But in my opinion that does not solve the problem.

When somebody writes you „Hey, could you just correct the records 543,234,234 in the database? Here are the new values: x, y, z.“ What do you do?

  • Flag it as important?
  • Move it to the To-Do folder?
  • Mark it as unread?

All wrong. You create a task with wheter in Outlook directly or as in my company in JIRA. Explain what is to do, maybe attach the mail if necessary. Then delete it from your inbox. If possible, do the task immediately and then mark it as done. If you put this in JIRA (or the ticket system of your choice), others can comment, attach useful informations and so on.

I have another scenario:

A person, call him Joh, happened to coordinate a meeting with a customer. He called them and the customer says „Oh, ahm, I am not responsible for this, did you already talk to XY?“. Then he opens Outlook, types in the name in the search bar and searches through his inbox. He did not find anything, so he got the person’s contact infos per mail of course. So what’s the point here? You do not manage your contacts in the inbox. What happens if you accidentially delete just this important mail? Then you’re lost. For this scenario Outlook (and other email clients as well) are able to manage contacts in a very comfortable way. Then things become easier, just like to share contacts with your colleagues.

You see, there is much space for improvements.