The Real Reason We Dread Our Inboxes

Viewed in The Wall Street Journal

At first, as the Internet and email communication were broadly implemented in the 1990s, we properly saw it as an extraordinary contribution to information sharing and efficiency.

Email revolution

The ability to craft an email and have one’s written message developed and transmitted immediately to the recipient was indeed revolutionary. But every technical advance, it seems, also brings us new challenges. This has certainly been the case with email communication.

Four hours a day taming your inbox

 In this Wall Street Journal article, marketing strategist Dorie Clark dives into this challenge in considerable detail, and it all starts with this eye-opening statistic: “The average professional spends more than four hours a day taming their inboxes, and many face a perennial backlog.”


Translation: This technology, which first appeared to offer extraordinary efficiency and time management advantages, has not played out so simply. In reality, especially as the ability of organizations to send mass email marketing messages and the tendency of some senders of email to excessively copy others on their communications, email has become a time-consuming burden to many.

Health impact

But it actually gets worse. It turns out, believe it or not, that email is actually making us physically ill. “One study found that as emails poured in throughout the day, subjects’ blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels all increased,” according to this Wall Street Journal article.

How is it that this technical tool, first seen as a great contribution to one’s efficiency and ability to communicate, could devolve so quickly into an actual burden?

Email eases procrastination

Unlike telephonic or in-person communication, it turns out email also has facilitated the human inclination to procrastinate. Emails that ask us to do certain things or answer certain difficult questions tend to be left in one’s inbox with an understanding that we have the luxury of time to revisit them.

Piling up

As days and maybe weeks pass by, one such email, in turn, is joined by others that fall in the same class. Result: Emails that ask difficult things of us—whether to act, decide, or answer for instance—get left unanswered with the assumption that we will return to them.

Avoid acting

But we don’t do so with any urgency, and so the cycle begins: Email after email piles up unanswered as we utilize email communication not to act but to avoid acting. It has become the perfect storm, in many respects.

Emotionally challenging to take hard decision

“We can’t control the number of messages we get; the nature of the medium is that it’s free and easy for people to ping us about anything, at all hours.

But when we recognize what’s actually preventing us from tackling our emails—which, so often, is the emotional difficulty of making hard decisions, and our all-too-human tendency to put them off—we can begin to take control,” Clark concludes.

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