How To Fix Email … With Science!

No one likes email. It's an inextricable part of modern life that we have yet to get rid of, despite having to hear the pings from Slack and Teams. A pair of researchers discovered a simple way to reduce inbox anxiety: send email back to its asynchronous roots.
Half of us respond within an hour to emails. This means that many people answer emails during non-work hours or when they're not working. This is a problem because we all receive too many emails and spend more than 25% of our work time answering them.

After eight studies, Laura M. Giurge from London Business School and Vanessa Bohns from Cornell University have come up with a solution: Stop treating email as slack.

Email is an invaluable tool. It's flexible and allows for broad collaboration with people outside of your company. And it's asynchronous so the sender and receiver don't have to be online at the same moment. Giurge says that they have turned the benefits into disadvantages. It should be used as an alternate means of communication. However, we began to use it as a 'all-the-time' communication tool.

Instant messaging tools, such as Slack, may require an immediate acknowledgement--even if it's just a GIF or thumbs up emoji--as they're generally used as ways to collaborate on work at the same time. It's time to treat email like paper mail. You don't need to send a letter to confirm receipt or signal your intent to pay your ISP's broadband bill.

It only works if everyone agrees. Bosses have taught their employees to pay attention to new messages that arrive in their inboxes. Bohns says that email was meant to simplify our lives by allowing us the freedom to work anywhere and anytime. We end up working all over the place because we feel the need to respond quickly to every email.

Everybody with an email address is both a sender as well as a receiver. Understanding the perspectives of others should not be difficult, but it's easy to forget. Bohns states that in the moment of sending an email, we become so focused on ourselves that we forget what it feels like from the perspective of the receiver.

Although a sender might not want a prompt response, especially if they have work to do, once that message arrives in your inbox it is immediately on your list of things to do. Giurge says, "As a receiver you're so concerned about other people's expectations and what they might think of you if you don’t respond right away--that it's not dedicated, don't care, or not paying attention-–that we really care about being responsive."