How Email is Killing Your Productivity and Tips to Beat It

April 17, 2014 Raechel Duplain

How Email Contributes to the Illusion of Productivity

Email is a bottomless pit where productivity goes to die.

[caption id="attachment_8973" align="alignright" width="355"] The bottomless pit of email[/caption]

Don't believe me? Consider this example: It's common in the workplace to hear the phrase, "Let me email that to you again so it's at the top of your list," from a coworker who needs something from you. The problem with this phrase is that email won't be at the top of your inbox list for long. Your current top priority might not be their top priority and, even if you do see the email, it probably won't go to the top of your to-do list. So, the email request will either get forgotten again, buried in a mass of other emails, or you'll have to interrupt the other important work you're doing in order to fulfill the request.

Like I said, email = bottomless pit of lost productivity. A recent poll of top marketers confirms this claim by revealing that 63 percent of marketers consider overflowing email inboxes one of their top four work inefficiencies.

Email has Fallen from "Miracle of Technology" to "Necessary Evil"

Once upon a time, email was a great miracle of technology with its ability to allow us to communicate quickly and send documents to people miles away without having to lift a finger. However, it has now become one of the most overused, unproductive, and deceptive ways to manage your work.

Important information on projects gets lost in the piles of overlooked and unnecessary emails, sending a project request over and over again won't ensure that a request is seen and, at the same time, sending email requests only adds to an already full-to-the-brim inbox. In fact, a Yahoo! survey found that overflowing email inboxes are so daunting that one third of people would rather clean their toilets than clean out their email inboxes.

One of the biggest problems with email is that it takes any communication about work completely out of context. Instead of quick and easy collaboration, you get:

  • No document version control (how was I supposed to know there's a newer version?)
  • Communications lost in mile-long email chains that take 30 minutes to navigate
  • Emails with too many people CC'd, just in case
  • Vague subject lines, which often lead to accidentally deleted information
  • Information about work, but no information about which project its for, dependencies, or next steps

Most people mistakenly believe that email is the best and/or only way to effectively communicate about work. But the reality is, email has become such a recurring nightmare for requestors and resources that 62 percent of people admit they regularly check work email over the weekend and 50 percent have admitted to checking it on vacation. Rather than relaxing and unwinding from the chaos of work, they're essentially addicted to checking their email, either out of habit or fear of falling behind.

Author Jonathan Spira found that 100 emails can occupy over half of a person's day. It's certainly not uncommon to receive that many emails during a day in the office, even a slow one. Because of this, it's hard to get any real work done when you're spending so much of your day grazing emails.

How Do You Escape Email Hell?

Email is a great way for your crazy aunt to still send you cat pictures and motivational quotes. However, it is no longer a viable workplace communication tool. Having to navigate through email chains at work can get far more confusing than trying to figure out why a cat hanging from a branch is telling you to "hang in there". So, what is the answer, the solution to the madness?

1. Realize that email hell indicates a bigger problem.

First, recognize that if you're living in email hell at work, the real problem is that your team has serious request management issues. You can help solve both of these issues by designating one place for receiving, accepting, and managing work requests. One example is developing a dedicated email address. That way, all requests go to one email address. Then, designate one person (usually a manager or senior manager) to be the gatekeeper of your team's requests. They will be able to strategically decide which requests get done now, which wait until later, and which won't bring any value to the company.

If coworkers or clients send requests to your personal email, either forward them to your request email, or respond back and ask them to use your email request queue from now on. If they don't, their request will not be recognized. With this process in place, you can detach yourself from the chaos of email work requests and focus on what you have to get done now.

2. Implement a request management tool.

You can dispel the illusion of email productivity in another way by implementing a marketing work management system that has a request management tool. With this approach, you can direct everyone who needs to make a request to the tool where all requests will be collected in one place rather than getting lost in emails. As a result, you'll be able to reserve your personal email for other things as well as reduce the amount of emails you receive.

While email probably isn't going away anytime soon, there are ways to cut back. When you find a way to introduce and enforce a request management process, you and your team will save time, feel the burden lifted from your shoulders, and notice your email-induced headaches subside. Once people start requesting through the standardized system, the illusion of productivity given by email will turn into a more productive reality.


What methods are you currently using to manage your influx of requests? Are you interested in more ways productivity could be an illusion where you work?

Watch the on-demand webinar series, "Dispelling the Illusion of Productivity: 5 Unproductive Phrases Creatives Say and How to Avoid Them."

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About the Author

Raechel Duplain

Raechel is an award-winning content marketer who has particular expertise in managing B2B content marketing projects, developing content strategies, and marrying content with design. She’s a Certified Scrum Master and a Marketing Workflow Expert who’s passionate about the Agile Marketing methodology. When she’s not working, Raechel spends her time with her husband, at the beach, or pretending like she’s going to go for a run.

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