Email Overload

Email overload is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a large volume of incoming messages. Email overload makes the management of the Inbox necessary. Wouldn’t it be great if the inbox itself could filter the email by prioritization, information structuring and work-flow management?

Now the user has to assess and prioritize the message based on the immediately visible message characteristics like the sender and the subject line. This decision has to be done again when the content of the message has been read. He or she has to reevaluate the initial decision regarding the action on the email. Some email messages require multiple actions as well as input and decisions from others. All these actions together with keeping email messages in your Inbox may contribute to the feeling of email overload.

A lot of blogs and websites deal with email overload and what to do about it, like: 43Folders and Lifehacker. Some of these ways how to deal with email have also been discussed on this blog so I won’t go into all the good advice about how to deal with your email inbox

Besides the use of tags for email prioritization what else is needed as inbox mechanisms for email handling, how should your inbox look and function in the future?

Research in a group of researchers working on projects and research with collaborators from a wide range of ages (25-52 years) were interviewed about their Inbox. A snapshot was taken before the interviews of their Inbox and presented to the participants with the emails cut out. The participants were asked to illustrate an inbox structure that reflected their personal preferences to organize and retrieve emails. Then, participants were asked to illustrate another Inbox structure that reflected the importance of different emails and enabled them to easily distinguish among messages.

From these interviews and data analyses the researchers found that with regards to email organization it is crucial for email clients to support assigning priority of emails without losing the temporal overview of messages. It is also important to allow linking related emails without the need to collocate them. It supports the users in obtaining a quick overview which messages contain information relevant to an email-related task and at the same time maintaining a consistent inbox structure. So sorting to predefined criteria (group, task, people) and creating automatic links to new messages that is likely to belong to one thread. That’s all that is needed for our fight against email overload, anyone suggestions for this ideal software?
Szóstek, A. (2010). ‘Dealing with My Emails’: Latent user needs in email management. Computers in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.09.019