Inbox Fatigue: Why This New Era Of Anti-Email Isn’t Better, And A Prediction Of Future Communication

Slack. Asana. Voxer. We live in a time of amazing software that connects us and allows us to communicate for business.

… but is it good?

And is it better than email, which many are saying it is?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, I’m not convinced we’re in a better age.

I’m experiencing inbox fatigue — not fatigue from my email inbox but rather fatigue from the sheer number of inboxes I now have to manage.

Aaron Hoos Writer
This is not me. It’s a stock photo… doubtlessly of someone experiencing inbox fatigue!

THE EARLY DAYS WERE SIMPLER…

When I started my business (well, restarted my business) over 10 years ago, I had basically 3 inboxes:

  • Email was my primary inbox and in those early days I also used it as a project management system. I would accept projects in my email, work on them on my desktop, and then deliver them back through email.
  • And my phone — people would call and if they had to leave a voicemail then I’d get back to them.

These first two were my primary inboxes.

  • I also had an account on a site called Guru.com, which is a job-posting site that people would use to hire freelancers. I ran a bunch of my projects through there as well, so it was technically a third inbox (although those projects were automatically emailed to me so I could still monitor my Guru account in my email inbox).

So basically 2-3 inboxes.

Pretty simple.

…THEN THERE WAS INBOX CREEP…

Over time, things changed: There was the concurrent development of the growth of my own business as well as the advancement of technology.

So more clients, more complex clients, and more complex technology meant more inboxes to pay attention to…

  • Skype
  • Texts
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • More job boards (like Guru… including oDesk, Elance, etc.)
  • Basecamp
  • Client’s internal/proprietary project management systems

I also got my own act together and started managing my projects in another system instead of email (I tried a couple different ones but really clicked with Evernote, which I still love today).

It was a lot, and growing, but also manageable.

…AND NOW THERE’S INBOX OVERLOAD!

But today it’s become even more complex:

I have several clients using Slack, several more using Asana, and several more using Voxer, on top of the systems I’ve already mentioned above.

Yes, these all serve different purposes (some are communication-centric, others are for project management), but the bottom line is: they are all inboxes.

In short, I’ve gone from running a business with 2-3 inboxes to running a business with dozens of inboxes, sometimes multiple inboxes for just one client.

And it seems like we’re coming out with new inboxes all the time. Slack is relatively new, for example, and it’s touted as an email killer. Not surprisingly, several clients have jumped on board to use Slack instead of email. This will continue and it will grow as the next Slack and the NEXT Slack and the NEXT NEXT Slack is invented.

I’M NOT TURNING INTO AN OLD MAN — I HAVE A LEGIT POINT!

I swear — I’m NOT turning into a curmudgeonly old man. I realize that the level of client I now serve probably requires more complex communication and project management systems, and some of these systems provide value that email did not (such as versioning control). And to be frank, my business is far more complex and financially successful than in those simpler 2-inbox days so I definitely welcome the added features!

It seems like we’re in an era of “anti-email” — where communication is being done in more specific, more robust software that is more attuned to a single purpose.

But this new era of communication and project management causes me to wonder: is it better?

I don’t think it is.

In fact, I think this new era of anti-inbox communication is actually hurting us, for the following reasons:

1. We’ve reduced emails but we haven’t reduced messages: We once had inboxes that BURST at the seams with hundreds of emails flooding in every day and that was overwhelming.

(In fact, I still have a few clients with whom I have frequent “Replay All” email conversations between 4 of us, and if I miss a few emails while in a meeting then it takes a while to catch up.)

I understand that the sheer volume of emails is exhausting. But here’s the point I think people are missing: we’re not reducing the number of messages we once had; we’re just spreading them across more inboxes.

So instead of one big and daunting pile of emails (which is admittedly overwhelming) we have several small piles of messages in email, text, Skype, Facebook, Slack, Asana, Basecamp, Voxer, etc.

2. We are now paying an “invisible” price for this. We think we’re reducing email but we’re not — and now we’re ALSO paying a “switching cost” to check all of these different inboxes instead of just one. We now have to sign into several different inboxes to check those inboxes, communicate, etc.

3. We still use email for “important” things. Well, I don’t know about you but this is the case for me and my clients. We communicate on projects through all these various inboxes but whenever someone wants to raise the importance of something, they send an email. So email is still valued as a way to communicate but it’s become almost a place to indicate priority.

4. Even the anti-email mindset still benefits when there is only ONE inbox. It seems like people want multiple inboxes for different things, depending on the situation. They can have project management work in one set of inboxes and communication in another set of inboxes, etc. There’s this implicit idea that a single-inbox email is inefficient and old-school. Yet, how do you stay on top of all the notifications from each of these new and diverse inboxes? If you’re like most people I know, you do so through the notifications on your phone: each inbox has an app and each app notifies when there’s a new message. So all we’ve really done is take the single inbox value out of email and put it onto our phone. (But we still pay a “switching cost” to go from one app to another).

I THINK WE’LL SEE A SHIFT BACK

There is a lot of value to these apps. I use them and I like them. For example, I’m a big fan of Voxer. And Asana is growing on me (although it feels like a lot of its features were crammed in as an afterthought without a ton of user-experience consideration — IMO).

I think we’ll eventually* see a shift back to a single inbox in the future. We might not call it “email”. I predict that we’ll have some kind of inbox/dashboard/gathering-point, where all notifications will come into a single place from everywhere allowing us to review, sort, prioritize, and then launch into the right app.

… and this single inbox/dashboard/thing will need to be device agnostic so it works everywhere — on our mobile devices (replacing the mobile device itself as an inbox) and also on our laptops (for those of us who use them for work).

(* “eventually” = I’m not sure when. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It could happen this year but I doubt it.)

My mobile device is working just fine as a notifier but I’d like something on my laptop too (so that I can download files I need to work on, etc.) and I’m hacking something together with my Evernote inbox, email, and IFTTT. But it’s sketchy.

If you are a developer looking for a project, I think this is going to be huge. People think they want an email killer but what they really want is one place to gather EVERYTHING. Right now we’re using our mobile devices to do that, but that has limitations. What we really need is an inbox that is like our email inbox right now (everything in one place) but doesn’t seem like email… and from which we can review, sort, filter, prioritize, and manage all those messages from all those inboxes… and to be able to access that anywhere (mobile devices, online, desktop/laptop, etc.)

In the meantime? I assume we’ll just keep piling on the apps every time a new supposed “email-killer” inbox comes out. And I guess we’ll just use our mobile devices to ping us every time we get a message.

Eventually we’ll get tired of it and do something about it.

I’m Challenging Myself To Wake Up At 5:00 a.m. For The Next 100 Days

I’m in a 100 day challenge to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day.

Join me on this journey as I wake up early (or try to!) and share my successes (and failures) with you. Plus, I’ll share tips, tools, and strategies to help you wake up as early as you want to.

HERE’S WHY I’M DOING THIS 5:00 A.M. CHALLENGE

I’m frequently asked by people why I’m challenging myself to wake up at 5:00 AM… and I’m asked this especially by people who know me and have known that I used to keep really late hours.

So here’s why I’m doing this challenge: I’ve never been a “morning person”. For most of my life I’ve stayed up late, woke up late, skipped breakfast, and defined myself as a “night owl”.

And as a writer, that tendency really showed itself in my daily work: I’d frequently stay up late to finish projects.

Unfortunately, this created a couple of problems: First, I sometimes wouldn’t even START work until the rest of the world was winding down for the night, which messed up my social schedule, my workout schedule, my eating schedule — you name it! Second, my wife has “normal” hours so I didn’t get to see her as often: She’d sleep while I worked and then I slept while she went about her day. She was very forgiving about it but I knew it wasn’t cool.

So I decided to make a change in my life.

Earlier this year I read all the research on sleep that I could get my hands on, and I learned A LOT about the role of sleep in our lives and how to “hack” sleep to have a better rest and to be more productive when you wake up.

Then I did a 30 day challenge to wake up at 5:00 AM everyday. It was challenging at first… and then it was awesome. I loved it and I immediately discovered that I was QUANTIFIABLY more productive by waking up in the morning and working than if I worked the same number of hours at night. Plus, I was healthier and had more free time… it was amazing. (Specifically: I was 4 times more productive by working from 5am until noon than I was by working from 9pm to 4am, which was pretty typical for me.

Unfortunately, that change didn’t stick. As much as I loved waking up early, I had a crazy summer of traveling and deadlines, so I defaulted back into my less-productive and less-healthy patterns of sleeping late and staying up late.

So I decided to restart this habit in my life but this time to do it for a longer period of time — 100 days — to try to embed the change more deeply into my life… and along the way I would record my progress to help me deepen the habit even further.

INTRODUCING MY 5:00 AM CHALLENGE — DAY 1

So here is the first video from Day 1 of that challenge…

These videos will provide not only an ongoing account of how I’m doing, they’ll also be some accountability as I share the days that I’m doing great… and the days I’m not doing so great! You won’t always see me at my best! But, if you stick with me, you’ll (hopefully) see progress and maybe even get inspired to wake up early yourself.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s what I would recommend:

1. Bookmark this link — http://aaronhoos.com/tag/5am-challenge/ — and check back because this is how you can find my 5:00 AM challenge updates easily

2. Read my blog post How I Mastered My Sleep To Become More Productive, where I talk about the research I did into the science of sleeping and waking up. This popular post summarizes a lot of the lessons I learned and applied to change how I sleep.

… And if you decide to participate in a similar challenge, give me a shout-out on Twitter (@AaronHoos) because I love to hear about people who are inspired to do the same challenge, and I’ll do my best to give you some encouragement, too!

What are you going to do this very instant?

I’ve always been a big planner and goal setter. Sometimes that has worked out in my favor; other times I’m a little too optimistic and I set more goals than are humanly achievable.

What I’ve learned about effective goal-setting is this: you need to take action right away. As soon as you set a goal, you need to do something about it immediately — this very instant.

Tony Robbins says something about this in his book Awaken The Giant Within. He says, “never leave the scene of a decision without taking action.”

Here’s why this is such an important concept:

If you’re excited about something (a new idea, plan, or goal) then the initial action will give you momentum and momentum is a very powerful thing.

Or, if you’re not excited about something then the instant action will help you avoid procrastination. A great example, I think, is the classic decision to diet. “I’ll start Monday,” is often the decision (and that decision is followed up by a few days of binging until Monday rolls around).

What plans are you in the process of making? Whatever you’re thinking about, take action right away, even if it’s a small action, to get a positive step forward.

Lessons learned from waking up at 5:00 AM every day for the past 30 days

A month ago I set a challenge to myself to wake up every day at 5:00 AM for 30 days. I started on May 1 and the challenge went until May 30.

That was the intention. The result was a little different. So my blog post title was a bit misleading. The goal of the challenge was to get up at 5:00 AM every day but the result wasn’t quite every single day.

DAY BY DAY RESULTS

Things started out pretty good. In the first 9 days, I got up at 5:00 AM 7 times…
Friday, May 1 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Saturday, May 2 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Sunday, May 3 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Monday, May 4 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Tuesday, May 5 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Wednesday, May 6 — Got up at 7:45 AM
Thursday, May 7 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Friday, May 8 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Saturday, May 9 — Got up at 8:30 AM

In the middle of the challenge I went on vacation so I knew (ahead of time) that these 3 days wouldn’t count…
Sunday, May 10 — N/A
Monday, May 11 — N/A
Tuesday, May 12 — N/A

Vacation’s over. Back in the game! It was a bit of a struggle at first…
Wednesday, May 13 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Thursday, May 14 — Got up at 8:00 AM
Friday, May 15 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Saturday, May 16 — Got up at 9:00 AM
Sunday, May 17 — got up at 8:30 AM

… But then I got into a groove for a week and it went pretty well…
Monday, May 18 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Tuesday, May 19 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Wednesday, May 20 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Thursday, May 21 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Friday, May 22 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Saturday, May 23 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Sunday, May 24 — Forgot to post. Woke up around 8:30 AM.
Monday, May 25 — Got up at 5:00 AM

Things started to fall off the rails near the end as I got sick…
Tuesday, May 26 — Got up at 8:30 AM
Wednesday, May 27 — Forgot to post. Didn’t wake up at 5:00 AM
Thursday, May 28 — Got up at 6:00 AM
Friday, May 29 — Got up at 5:00 AM
Saturday, May 30 — Got up at 8:30 AM

My challenge was for 30 days and I got up at 5:00 AM only 17 days in total. That’s not a great number, although there were 3 days in there (during my vacation) when the challenge was placed “on hold” and I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t even try to get up at that time, so that’s a bit better.

LESSONS LEARNED

I learned a lot during this challenge. Here are some of the lessons:

  • Getting up at 5:00 AM is WAY easier than I used to think it would be. In fact, even though there were circumstances that kept me from getting up every day, I’m really proud of the 17 days I did get up at 5:00 AM!
  • I am SO much more productive between 5:00 AM and 12:00 PM than I am at any other time of the day. When I get up at 5:00 AM, I get all my work done at this time and that gives me the afternoon and evening to do whatever I want (work, play, whatever).
  • This challenge also helped to connect my brain to my body a bit more. By that I mean: I realized that I can have a productive morning if I wake up alert or if I wake up groggy, but if I wake up really sleepy then I’m of no use to anyone and my writing is garbage. Therefore, I have 2 possible “tracks” to take in the morning (alert/groggy, or, sleepy), so now I need to figure out how to increase the likelihood of waking up alert (or, at the very least, groggy) instead of sleepy.
  • Routines help: When I follow a pre-bed routine, I am more likely able to wake up at 5:00 AM than if I skip my routine. Although I don’t have exact numbers on this, it seems like my pre-bed routine has potentially greater impact on my sleep quality (and on how I feel when I wake up) than how much sleep I get.
  • Environment helps: Before this challenge I tried waking up at 5:00 AM and failed miserably (which is what prompted the challenge). What helped was: for this challenge I moved my phone into the dining room so I had to get up and walk through my house to turn my alarm off… and while I passed through the kitchen I turned the kettle on. That environmental shift made it so much easier to get up and stay up.
  • Accountability helps: There were 2 or 3 days during this challenge when I didn’t really want to get up at 5:00 AM but I also didn’t want to admit on my blog that I failed. So I got up and stayed up.
  • Activity helps: I try to do a bit of activity (most squat thrusts and stretching) in the morning to help get the blood pumping. It makes a big difference.

Even though the results weren’t as consistent as I hoped, I really liked this challenge a lot and I can’t express enough how much more productive I am when I wake up at 5:00 AM versus any other time of the day. So going forward I’m going to continue this practice.

The 5:00 AM challenge (29/30)

Good morning! It’s 5:30 AM and I got up at 5:00 AM this morning! (Whew) Even though I’m a little under the weather, I am feeling a bit better and I definitely didn’t want to fizzle out on the last couple days of my challenge to get up at 5:00 AM. So I knocked back some Neo Citran (my “drug” of choice when I get a head cold) and went to bed REALLY early yesterday. Had a fantastic sleep and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go today. Awesome. Yeah, I’ve still got a bit of a sore throat but not as bad as yesterday. Which is good because I have A LOT to do in the next few days!

Gotta run.

Stay productive!