Dante's Email Hell

The endless torment that creative professionals endure in email hell befits Dante’s “Inferno”

On a daily basis, creative professionals journey through a number of workplace-driven “hells” that seem just as endless as Dante’s Inferno. Often at the hands of good-intentioned but chaotic work processes, the average workday is plagued by wasteful redundancy, confusion and useless information.

Take email, for example. This universal language of business opened the door to greater efficiency and scalability. But being a great tool for some things doesn’t mean it’s great for everything. Email is notorious for hijacking productivity. Research from the Egan Group shows that the average worker comes up against 15 email interruptions per day, which add up to about one hour of lost time. And for every 100 people unnecessarily copied on an email, eight hours are lost, according to data in Overload! by Jonathan Spira.

The irony of this email hell is that we act like victims even though we’re enablers. Sure, it’s frustrating that your inbox refills no matter how fast or hard you work. It’s incredibly easy to let emailed action items slip through the cracks. Don’t we add to these problems every time we use email to make work requests, ask for status reports or—worst of all—misuse an email distribution list? Let’s be honest. We also use email as a crutch for avoiding things like talking to real people or finally getting started on a top priority task.

How Do I Escape?

Don’t worry. It’s possible to get out of email hell by following these strategies:

1. Reduce your dependency on email for the important things. This overarching best practice for eliminating the negatives of email requires evaluating the emails you receive and determining if there’s a better way of handling them. Calendar invites might make sense to keep in email, but what about status updates, work requests and documents? You can gain productivity just by centralizing these into a single, easily accessible and easy-to-use location that isn’t your email inbox.

2. Host status updates in a central place. This will free you from the continual stream of individual pings from different team members asking for the latest info. Instead of sending you email interruptions, anyone on the team, at any time, can simply look in that central location to get the answers they need. Consider talking to work management experts who can offer other best practices and guide you through a maturity model built for greater productivity, improved morale and smarter business savings.

3. Put all the decision-making information needed in the original request. This puts an end to the constant back-and-forth of scope gathering that often goes on when trying to decide if you can or should actually agree to a particular work request. Housing work requests in a central location also makes it easier to notify requestors of your requirements and enforce those requirements.

The bottom line is that when we perpetuate the problems associated with email hell, the result is more serious than we realize. But you don’t have to exist in email hell anymore — grab the devil by the horns and do something about it.