October 10th has been declared International No-Email Day and, while the premise is well intentioned, the need for it is not. People who are overwhelmed by email on a daily basis shouldn't need to need to ignore the written communiqués of friends, family, and colleagues. Ever. The problem that seems to exist is not so much the volume of the messages, but the signal-to-noise ratio. How are we supposed to get anything done when so many people are trying to talk to us? This is something I've been thinking a great deal about1, and the solution may be simpler than one might think.
When I look at the people around me using email I see some very common patterns. The Inbox is a massive pile of read and unread messages2 that people avoid or glance at quickly before slowly composing a message to someone else. Once done, they leave the email application as quickly as possible to get back to whatever else needs to be done. Why do people even bother having an Inbox? Every morning people should Select All and Delete. Inbox Zero!
This can't be done, of course, but it's fun to dream.
So how can email be improved? What if we ditched the idea of having an ever-present Inbox intimidating us with the endless reams of unread messages?
Here's how I think email would become a thousand times more useful at my organization:
- Person A wants to send an email, so they launch a new type of email client. It starts with a "New Email" window that people can immediately start typing a message in.
- After writing the message they fill out the list of people that will receive the message
- Subject lines are completely optional, and hidden by default3
- After the message is sent, the email client disappears
Want to know about messages? Here's how people could do it.
- Person A wants to check email, so launch the new email client. It starts with the "New Email" window, but people hit a magnifying glass to search existing emails
- They type in what they're looking for
- The screen shows the necessary results, with the option to filter read/unread messages, the senders, the dates, and everything else someone might need to sort and filter
Want to see the Inbox? Hit the envelope and take a gander at that hideous mess that's been out of control for so long.
Most people don't manage their email at all, and that's completely their choice. That said, the majority of the people I've worked with have all fallen into this category. Not only do they not read 50% of the messages that hit their Inbox, they call the people they send messages to ensure it's read. Clearly the existing email paradigm needs to change, and a combination of minimalist writing agent / Google Search / Twitter-like system might just be the ticket out of Inbox Hell.
As someone who regularly achieves Inbox Zero I might not need this application at the moment, but who knows what the future has in store. If I start receiving several hundred messages a day then the Inbox will become a time-sink.
What do you think of the current state of email clients? Do we need something new to make it better?