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Drowning in emails? 5 extreme ways to clear your inbox Written by Nina Fowler on 7. March 2013



Got mail? A McKinsey study last year estimated the average knowledge worker spends over a quarter of each work day reading and answering emails. In all, about 89 billion business emails were sent and received per day last year.

Those suffering from email overload shouldn’t need statistics to recognise it. Admittedly, for journalists and investors, it’s a bit of a luxury problem: “[Founders] go to bed at 3am and wake up at 8am to build product and we have too much work to do because we have to do our emails?” as Balderton Capital’s Roberto Bonanzinga put it recently.

Still, slack response times are frustrating for everyone. So what to do? For those who’ve tried the usual tricks – allocating certain times to check email, unsubscribing from mailing lists and getting a better tagging system – we’ve put together a few new, radical suggestions:

Switch to SMS – or another platform of your choice

Why This will avoid rather than solve the problem. But giving close contacts another way to get in touch – whether it’s SMS, Facebook, What’s App or Moped – will at least help them cut through the noise.

Who’s a fan 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure negotiated most of his recent deal with Berlin startup Versus IO using plain SMS paired with two phone calls. “Doing the deal this way was extremely refreshing,” Versus IO founder Ramin Far said. “Communication was responsive, quick and reduced to the minimum.”

Use Mailstrom to clear emails in bulk

Why New free web app Mailstrom specialises in grouping emails by sender or subject so they’re quick and easy to clear in one go. Mailstrom only downloads subject and metadata and doesn’t store anything, which should ease privacy concerns. The catch: there’s still a waiting list (we’re at number 4,735).

Who’s a fan Esther Dyson penned a positive review last year, saying the app helped her sift emails in a way she couldn’t on her own. She included a glimpse into her own inbox horrors: “At the moment, after a few days in the WiFi-free countryside, I have 17 messages from Dave Farber, 15 from the Business Insider group (it catches some related senders), and 11 from The New York Times. I just got rid of all the Times headlines in one fell swoop, leaving me with only 1,356 to go!”

Inbox Pause

Try Inbox Pause

Why Gmail plugin Inbox Pause hacks your vacation autoresponder so you can “pause” your inbox with the click of a button. When you’re ready to rejoin the connected world, the paused messages should promptly all arrive at once. Admittedly, this might simply make your stress resemble peaks and troughs – but it might help those trying to check their email less often.
Who’s a fan This is a hackathon project rather than a proper product. We’re not recommending it as a first choice…

Try Mailbox

Why Meet Mailbox (pictured below), another much-hyped email management app from the US. It’s very simple and designed for mobile first – basically, each new email is sorted into three categories: keep in inbox, save for later (swipe left) and chuck out (swipe right). “Save for later” parks the email so it reappears in your inbox at a time of your choice.

Who’s a fan “Every now and then, I get my hands on an application or a piece of technology that I can’t wait to tell the rest of the world about,” Ryan Lawler wrote for TechCrunch. It’s collecting rave reviews from other beta users, too.


“Sender pays”

Why There’s currently no easy way to integrate this – but it might be on the way. Esther Dyson wrote a lengthy piece justifying the idea for Project Syndicate and called for it again at the London Web Summit last week (minute 12:45). Here’s how she put it then:

Call it email pollution. We’ve moved from the world where people are supposed to clean up pollution at the end to one where we try to fix it at the beginning. People should start paying to send email. The best way to do that is for the recipient to set a charge. You don’t have to. You can forgive the charge. But make the sender think: Is this really a useful email? Does the person really want to get it? Am I likely to get a response? And put money behind that.

Obviously, there would need to be the ability to create lists – family and friends could email for free, ex-boyfriends or cold business contacts might need to shell out the most.

Who’s a fan Facebook’s already trying this out, to a certain extent. It’ll be popular among in-demand investors such as Dyson; less popular for those usually on the sending rather than receiving end.

Note to developers Emails, especially ones with money behind them, should be treated as conversations – if this does eventually come in, we’ll also want a “Seen” feature and a refund for the sender if they don’t get a timely or useful answer.

Got thoughts to share on the future of email or tips of your own? Let us know @venturevillage or in the comments.

Image credit:
swimmer: flickr user jayhem


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