I have obsessive/compulsive tiny red-dot syndrome. You know, the anxiety that swells up when you see little red circles that alert you to notifications on your iPhone apps. So I damn-near went out of my mind when I noticed my friend had 30,856 emails in his email inbox.

Apparently my obsessive/compulsive nature is also spurred by my friends’ habits or maybe I should mind my own business. In any case — it got me thinking… email is so freaking overwhelming.

When I started my first job back in 1993, I remember how thrilling it was to use email to communicate to co-workers and yes, even friends. As someone who prefers to write versus talk on the phone, I happen to like this form of communication and use it all the time. But like anything else that’s fabulous (amazing chocolate, a sale at Saks, not having to pick up the phone and talk to a human) I realized that I needed to put certain limitations on my email use.

Because here’s the thing:

  • The average employee spends 13 hours a week reading and responding to email — 13 hours!*
  • By the end of 2021, the number of worldwide email users will be over 4.1 billion — this is more than half of the worldwide population.**
  • Only 38% of our inboxes contain emails that are important and relevant***

So this meant I was spending a big piece of my time on unimportant email and it was just going to get worse; or is it?

In 2017, France passed the Right to Disconnect Law, which allows people to ignore work-related email after hours. As reported on CNN, France’s Ministry of Labor said in a statement “These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and … balance between work and family and personal life.

Here in the United States, a culture that seems to be super plugged in, we are even considering making changes. In the spring of 2018, Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal proposed The Right to Disconnect Bill in NYC. Stay tuned for more.

Clearly we need to get a handle on things.

Then there is the other extreme, Inbox Zero. With Inbox Zero you strive to have nothing in your email. The concept comes from productivity expert Merlin Mann. Personally, I think it’s unnecessary and ridiculous. However, Mann does provide some excellent tips to get to Inbox Zero.

I think striving for zero emails is something that will spur even more anxiety for people. However, it made me start to wonder. What is the right number of emails to have in your inbox? For me, my comfort level is 25 and below and I’ve usually read all of them, I just haven’t taken action. A friend of mine is thrilled and feeling great because she hit 700. To her, this works because it gives her a much lighter feeling and an inbox that feels manageable. Perhaps it’s all relative?

Over a glass of wine, Mr. 30,000+ emails and I talked what could be done. We discussed the concept of Inbox Zero (which I think it a bunch of baloney) and the French approach but we also recognized that here in the United States we tend to have a much more intense culture with little room for breaks. I do think that our culture is in desperate need for a change — I feel we are struggling with the pace and crashing and burning, getting back up and doing it all over again the next day. And I think it’s on our CEOs, thought-leaders, celebrities and us (yep, YOU) to change the way.

How can we start?

  • Be mindful of the emails we send. Do you send chain emails? Copy everyone on an email?
  • Start your own Right to Disconnect policy. When you can turn off your email and effectively shut down for the day?
  • Unsubscribe! Consider what you’re signing up for in the first place. When ordering online refuse email promotions.

The thing is this.

We can loose hours, hours in unnecessary email. It can quickly become a to-do list and one that is not aligned with your values, goals and priorities. So let’s start to think about how we can get our email to work for us.

*McKinsey Global Institute
**Radicati Email Stats Report 2017-2021