Why are bad email habits so hard to break?


I love the idea of making email suck less.

As a reporter, email is one of the most important tools of my job: for communicating with sources, my editors and colleagues, companies I cover, receiving news tips, and more. Admittedly, my current email work flow is pretty awful. And I know I should get better about managing my email, especially on my phone, where I check it roughly 500 times a day. Still, I can’t get myself to let go of my bad habits.

It’s weird too: when it comes to mobile mail, today is one of the best times in recent memory to find a better solution. My Twitter feed has been filled with glowing reviews from many people who’ve tried Mailbox. And I love Taskbox’s motto: “make [email] something people don’t dread and people feel in control of.” So I gave Mailbox a go. The experiment lasted less than a week (it still tells me I have 22,200 unread emails). I also gave Taskbox a try for at least two weeks for my work email only (current unread email count a slightly less intimidating 722). Both seem like great products, but I realized I don’t have the patience to get into either of them. I don’t think it’s anything to do with those apps themselves — which plenty of people seem to love — but about the idea of change to a routine that is so critical to modern work — and life.
Mailbox email

My inability to stomach change is even more ridiculous because of how awful my current email work flow is both on my desktop and my iPhone. I use Gmail’s color-coded labels, which is plenty useful. But if I get an important email that I know requires my response but not immediately, I “star” it and mark it as unread.

It was Andrew Eye, CEO of Taskbox, who jokingly pointed out to me how broken email is: if “the only way to stay organized in email is to lie to yourself” that you haven’t read something when you actually have.

He’s right! But still — the idea of learning a new system of email, whether it’s by prioritizing items or “snoozing” them kind of freaks me out. I can’t miss an important email or misplace one even temporarily put it in a folder where I’m not immediately sure how to find it.

And, no, I’m not completely averse to change when it comes to my digital life. I don’t participate in the massive freakout when Facebook makes one of its inevitable design changes. I was plenty adventurous about trying out several new calendaring apps; getting deadlines right is also critical to my job, but I was able to successfully switch over to Sunrise from my iPhone’s basic calendar app.

But totally altering my mobile email routine seems like rebuilding the plane in mid-flight: there is never a good time for change.

I don’t think I’m alone either. Email is something people are super sensitive to altering. Even Google had a rough time rolling out too many changes at once: at one point even the labels feature was too much for non-power users to adopt.

Labels are standard now for a lot of email users, including me. And that gives me hope that some day I’ll find a service that’s able to drag me along to better email habits. But for the foreseeable future, I’ll be at inbox 22,000.

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