Do e-mails rule your life?


I was speaking with an IT director recently from a large consultancy firm in Yorkshire. We were, of course, waxing lyrical about all the nerdy things which inherently rule our lives when he asked me a question; “Do you think e-mail will be obsolete soon?”.

I was quite surprised by the question, primarily because it’s not one I’d ever given any serious credence to. Looking subjectively, it sure would be nice if we weren’t peppered with 200+ emails a day, most of which are “just so you know” or CC nightmares of no relevance. But would they ever be obsolete, could we move away from them altogether and what are the alternatives?

I try to use e-mail less than I ever used to. Professionally texting has even become fairly acceptable as a means of communication and I usually favour a phone call or face-to-face than a disembodied e-mail. I liaise with some customers directly through social media and instant messaging too; this is a medium I’ve definitely seen increase over the last 12 months and I don’t see any sign of it slowing. There are even some clever apps out there which channel all of this e-chatter into one client (like Trillian) but I think they’re still in their infancy (give it 12 months).

To move away from e-mail fully we need to embrace the other options out there. “Change comes from within” as they say, so looking at companies broadly until they understand the functions of an intranet message board (you’ve got one, you just don’t use it) why would you find an alternative way of communicating with a client?

The issue is that e-mail is such an inherent aspect of business that to do away with it seems like a leap into the unknown. We could, and probably will, shift away from personal e-mail as communication becomes quicker, shorter and easier. It’s less convenient to send an e-mail than a Facebook message or a tweet. The change won’t happen though until energetic start-ups use the phrase “We don’t use email”; could you imagine? It feels laughable but to get rid we need to make the break.

Most of us dislike e-mails as we feel beholden to them. In my travels to clients there are 3 types of inboxes I encounter:

  • 867 unread e-mails, with read e-mails scattered sporadically in and around those not deemed worthy of a read.
  • Inbox empty – all e-mails have been read, prioritised and filed away in a seemingly endless list of folders and sub folders
  • No unread e-mails, 350 flagged items. Sure I’ve read them all, but some still need actions…

Which category do you fall in to? I’m in number 3 because if I’m ever asked, at least I’ve read the e-mail and know what’s going on. I don’t like option 2 because I don’t need subfolders to see what’s going on. I have a cloud e-mail solution, so all of my emails can be instantly searched for any terms I deem fit, including their attachments.

Alternatively, people encounter daily issues with e-mail which they think are normal. They can’t access e-mails anywhere; sent e-mails from phones don’t appear in Outlook, they get too much junk mail through etc. All of these are fairly easy to resolve. Looking at the above list; Get a cloud e-mail host, configure your phone correctly, set up some automated rules and filters. (I bet you can think of a good IT company who would be able to help…)

I’m a big advocate of positive change, and I encourage people to stay modern and current. But my answer to the first question is no, I don’t think e-mails we be obsolete soon. They might be used less, but we habitual creatures have a long way to go before we make the break.

Finally, e-mails shouldn’t rule your life. They are a functional tool to assist your business, lifestyle and communication. If you’re feeling controlled by your inbox, then something isn’t going well either on the technology side or elsewhere but I assure you it can be remedied; I know because this is what we do! You should rule your emails not the other way around. They should work for you and if they don’t you’ll be forever chasing your own tail.