Is Email = Efail?

While I've always practiced reasonable email hygiene, for the last 6 months I've been in near-constant email bankruptcy mode. This concerns me.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

It’s not us, it’s you!
Stop being popular!
Stop being smarter!

I guess Outlook categories are like Gmail labels.

I think I’ll have to start using categories!

If you’re asking more than 1 question in an email, discard it and pick up the phone!

My gmail inbox says

13747 unread emails.

I am not stressed about it and I am not going to clean it up.

The time it takes to delete email is about the same as reading it so I just watch the messages as they hit my phone. If it looks important I might open it.

You have to treat email like you would im or you will go insane.

The main problem with any particularly lengthy e-mail conversation is that you can usually cover the same ground in a 2-minute phone call.

I think the same about people who waste dozens of dollars sending SMS messages back and forth. Particularly teenagers who use it exactly as they use IM (sending a SMS saying hi and waiting for a reply before sending another saying what’s up?).

@BCS: I love you for mentioning NNTP.

Have you considered installing a regular forum at Then, link to that forum prominently through your blog. Your die hard fans can answer 90% of questions for you. If people ask you a question via email, you can auto-reply with please post to the forum.

I realize you’re very busy and I appreciate it that much more that you have replied to every email I’ve sent you. Thank you very much. I’ve been reading your blog for years. It’s a good feeling that you take the time to acknowledge the people who spend so much time acknowledging you.


You just have been spammed! :wink:

Kinda fits topic…

I agree to a certain extent. The fact that there are more and more companies who have to introduce corporate email writing and handling rules (including tips like three points you state at the end of your article) shows that the email-issue creates productivity problems indeed. Another funny fact is that psychologists have started talking about email induced stress, the role of email in burnout and even emailophobia (don’t remember the correct name which has to be ancient greek ;).

On the other hand I think to quite some extent it’s also a matter of how you deal with email, what client you use, what features of this client, how you train your senders/recepients (by keeping your writing style), how well you make use of the subject line (@all, @kent, FYI, REQUEST, TASK COMPLETED, etc.)

Please don’t encourage people to send e-mails with a question in the subject-line and no body-text…


That’s like listening to music on TDK SA60’s

Sounds like I might be a candidate for email bankruptcy myself. My inbox has 404 unread messages, which, if only they knew, would be nicely appropriate for those waiting for a response. Clearing it is marked as urgent on my to-do list, but it’s still 4th item on the list :frowning:

I think I see the primary source of this failure:

People naturally put much more into an email, perhaps in an unconscious effort to amortize that email interface tax overhead across more content. People feel that since they are already bothering to write an email, they might as well take the time to go into all kinds of detail, perhaps even adding a few more things that they’re thinking about.

That’s just about the WORST email writing strategy possible!

I like email, because I can take 30 minutes to write one. 5 minutes to compose an email that might meet the above description, and 25 minutes to slash, hack, edit, restructure and distill it down to a potent essence that gets all of the critical details across.

I quit IMing because I thought it was poisoning my ability to write. I’m not interested in your stream-of-consciousness… you should have to think about what you want to say and then carefully compose it with an eye toward not wasting my time.

So yeah, email written like an IM = fail. But I don’t get it – what’s wrong with a high-quality email chain, and how is an IM conversation better?

Hey Now Jeff,

Email could be Efail.

Coding Horror Fam,


The main problem with any particularly lengthy e-mail conversation is that you can usually cover the same ground in a 2-minute phone call.

Sometimes, but not always. At least with e-mail I’ve got a record of what was asked and when it was asked - which has saved my bacon many times. I’ve been burnt on too many phone meetings to not want to channel as much through e-mail, etc. as I can.

@Schmoo: And yet you spend your time commenting on random blog posts? :slight_smile:

But you have that nice pretty pink netbook now. You should be able to keep up with my spam from anywhere and in style.

I use email almost entirely when I want a response from someone and don’t care when I get it.

I think a lot of the problems with email stem from the design of email clients. It’s impossible to skim a series of email messages in Outlook (though not, thanks to the short descriptions after the subject, in Gmail) and it’s a hassle to tell the computer you don’t care about the message, requiring at minimum two clicks.

It’d be nice to have an email client with an ignore gesture - swipe the mouse pointer over an area of the screen, and all the messages are marked as read.