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A Behavioral Economist Tries to Fix Email (theatlantic.com)
33 points by shackenberg 185 days ago | hide | past | web | 17 comments | favorite



I always thought I was a dinosaur (and probably I am one) as I consder e-mail a different form of mail, and since mail is delivered once (or maybe twice) a day, I normally do check e-mails twice a day, typically as soon as I arrive in the office and some half an hour before leaving it (in the evening only replying to really urgent messages, that are rare, all others are replied next morning).

It's somehow refreshing that the people that studied the issues deriving from "continuous update" came to similar conclusions:

>Mark’s ideal system does allow for urgent communications, just not through email. If workers need to contact one another with time-sensitive requests, she says, they’d pick up the phone, send an instant message, or talk in person.


How do you handle something that is urgent? What if there is (just as some examples) a short notice meeting or a person is blocked on what they are doing until they get an answer from you?

At any company I've worked for email basically became the end-all-be-all communication platform, except maybe idle chit-chat amongst small teams (which generally use their own platform).


Face to face or a phone call is best when you need to communicate quickly with the ability to clarify on the fly.


I hate phone calls with a passion. I can deal with email in my own time and personally don't find it causes a huge cognitive load to keep my inbox clean.

Similarly msn pings. I can check em when I'm not deep in thought or actively working on a problem, or ignore that flashing for 5 mins until I'm done.

I don't understand the argument at all - a phone call is a demand that cannot be ignored for any period of time, similarly an in person chat. Book a meeting if it's important.


>a phone call is a demand that cannot be ignored for any period of time

Wasnt the grandparent's question about urgent communications... that seems to me a very useful property

But I also have the opposite opinion; phone calls are by far the best method of remote comm to resolve something quickly. It hate people who don't know how to pick up calls with a passion

every time I'm forced to resort to text or email, the 5 minute problem likely is set back 30 minutes and half a day respectively; text because its a terrible method of communication, and email because no one bothers checking and responding in timely fashion

Fine if you're busy or otherwise unavailable, but anyone who comes back and tells me they subjected me to such bullshit on principle can burn in hell


The point is that e-mail is often considered a replacement for phone calls or direct (in person) visit.

Even worse, sometimes it is used as replacement for instant messaging.

In my view it is not, it is a replacement for mail.

When letters were actually hand written (and - side note - sending them had a cost) the idea was to communicate, you used to sit down at a desk in front of a blank sheet of paper, THINK about what you were wanting to communicate, THEN wrote it in the most correct and concise form possible.

E-mails are very often nowadays yust "Yo"'s, a handy way to either (you choose) annoy someone else for free, or delegating to the recipient the solution of a problem that you could solve yourself if you only take the time to think about it or pestering the recipient with a CC of an otherwise irrelevant mail you just received.

It has a lot of advantages when compared to a phone call (as an example it is he handiest way to send a document or even an address without having to spell over a noisy line) but it is not a SMS (that BTW is good enough to send a telephoine number or an address) but it has also a lot of disadvantages (still as I see it).

When you make a phone call you have some restrictions, the recipient needs to be available, you do know that you are disturbing him/her, possibly interrupting whatever he/she is intent at (and this self-limits - in "normal" people of course - the amount of phone calls made to those actually needed), but it is more personal, you can communicate (tone of voice, etc.) more unwritten nuances, it is interactive, there is less risks of misunderstandings as you or the person you are speaking with can ask for clarifications.

I have seen (in corporate environments) e-mails often used as a form of justification for inactivity, i.e. "I sent xxxx a mail, he disn't respond yet, I cannot do anything till then" (or if you prefer, "It was my problem but I deftly shiftloaded it onto xxxx, now it is his problem"), this is the kind of behaviour that besides slowing down overall the response time in real emergencies, creates a perverse loop, recipient xxxx will be likely to CC the issue to a third person, to have an opinion, etc.

The same (corporate) culture that equates the e-mail to instant messages favours the expectation that the sent e-mail should be replied immediately (and creates a symmetrical sense of guilt to the recipient that feels obliged to reply as soon as possible), and thus the continuous checking of the e-mail boxes, the disrupting of the flow of work by the distractions created, etc.

When someone calls me (at the phone) or enters my office (in person) he/she is disturbing me and interrupting my activities, they perfectly know that, and restrict these interactions to when it is actually needed, otherwise they send me an e-mail and they know that it will be duly processed in due time.


I'm just putting this out there but I would suggest that the habits of highly effective people are quite different from the habits of highly ineffective people.

My startup proposal is to use AI and deep learning to observe the patterns of […]

This comment was self-censored in the interest of community harmony.


I'm surprised that people would assume that emails you send would get an immediate response. I'd assume that very important stuff that absolutely can't wait would relayed with an SMS / phone.

I use Thunderbird, have disabled desktop notifications, and check them maybe 3 times a day (once in morning, another time around lunch, and then the 3rd time somtime afternoon). Or if I'm bored and have no more important things to do.


Wish I was kidding about this.

My VP once e-mailed me at 5:30am with a question. He then CALLED my boss Director at 7:00am asking why I hadn't responded.


Something similar happened to me 18ish years ago, hours before I watched Office Space for the first time.


Haha nice, good job he re-invented Gmail filters!

Sarcasm aside, I use filters for like, everything, so that the only email that lands in my inbox is email that's important - and if not, I always proactively filter it out or put it in a "reading" or other label.

However, I'm not as famous as Mr. Ariely!

Still cool research though.


I do that too. The problem is I have 140ish email rules. Changing them is scary because it is really like changing a pile of goto-riddled spaghetti code.

There are also things he listed that I don't know how to do in any email client. For example creating a rule that will allow emails to only notify at EOD. I'd love to have that.


Interesting. Definitely some novel use cases to be explored here! I agree the rules get a bit glass-housey.


I've found Google Inbox to be amazing for my private email. Important stuff gets a notification, unimportant stuff can get triaged as I see fit and snoozed for later.

Now I wish I had snoozing for my text messages...


> Now I wish I had snoozing for my text messages...

And I wish I had snooping for my gmail messages disabled...


Same here. I discovered Inbox quite recently and it does a great job for me.


Archive all? Fixed!




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