Email isn’t the problem. The problem is us

Email is a modern miracle. It's not the technology’s fault that we use it wrong

Woman at desk with mail flying out of her computer

(UpperCut Images/Getty)

The experts always turn to the math.

The average worker spends up to 28% of her workweek—more than 12 hours—reading and responding to email. And sure, a modest 40 emails a day adds up to about 10,000 a year, to be opened, scanned, processed, acted upon, filed and just as often ignored.

But email is not broken. We are. We’ve been conditioned to think we’re managing our email when, in fact, it’s managing us. Our inboxes chirp, and we stop—mid-thought—to read each one and fire off a few more. For most of us, achieving “inbox zero” is a Sisyphean struggle worthy of a Terry Gilliam film.

Silicon Valley is, of course, teeming with entrepreneurs hoping to be the great email killer. But as great as these souped-up instant-messaging services are, they will not kill email. That is because, for all the scorn we heap on email, it remains a miracle of modern life. And here’s why.

  1. It’s free.
  2. It’s universal.
  3. It’s so easy, your great-uncle Ned and your grandma have mastered it.

So if you’re looking for a surefire shortcut to inbox nirvana, it’s this: Turn off your notifications. Limit yourself to a few check-ins a day. And send fewer useless emails. You will receive fewer in reply.