How to Battle Email Fatigue

By Christine Landry

First things first: Email fatigue is real, and many of us experience it. At its most basic, it’s feeling overwhelmed by an overflowing inbox.

The phenomenon should be no surprise. Through the years, we’ve become increasingly dependent on email in both our work and personal lives. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index notes that in February 2021, a subsection of Microsoft Outlooks users sent 40.6 billion more emails compared to February 2020. Certainly, work-from-home pandemic policies contribute to the surge. In 2021, desk workers had to rely on digital options, email among them, to interact. With many employers continuing their remote-work policies, it seems the email uptick is here to stay.

Email fatigue is primarily a work problem, but it’s compounded by our reliance on email in our personal lives. In particular, self-employed and side-hustle sorts often have fewer divisions between work and home than traditional office workers and frequently manage both professional and personal obligations through a single email address. It’s the ultimate recipe for some serious email exhaustion.

To better understand the issue, let’s take a closer look at email fatigue and how to combat it.

Why You Should Take Email Fatigue Seriously

Part of the reason email exhausts us is it’s not a task you can complete and then check off your to-do list. Let’s say you get your inbox to zero. The next day—heck, the next hour—your inbox will spawn a fresh batch of emails, just like a rogue gremlin. To keep your inbox from spinning out of control, you must consistently manage it, day in and day out.

And managing it isn’t as simple as deleting messages. Some messages contain assignments—i.e. data requests, instructions to reach out to so-and-so about such-and-such, or a black-hole-sized problem you now must troubleshoot, etc.—that you must address to keep a paying job. Other messages may not need your immediate attention but will require it later, so you’ll need to both remember these messages exist and be able to find them later. Still, other messages may not require immediate action but contain information you’ll need to reference. In short, not only do you have to control these gremlin-like messages that bounce into your inbox uninvited, you must follow their orders and remember their needs later, all while they’re driving you nuts. No wonder inboxes can feel maddening.

In fact, email management feels like such a gargantuan task to one group of remote U.S. workers, nearly half said they’d rather clean their bathrooms than sort unopened emails. At 64%, even more preferred to add the once-loathed daily commute to their workday rather than deal with the current state of their inboxes. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index study found 42% of global workers feel stressed and 39% feel exhausted by their digital-centric work lives—and both are heading toward burnout. Researchers from the University of California, MIT, and Microsoft put a more serious spin on it in “Email Duration, Batching and Self-interruption: Patterns of Email Use on Productivity and Stress.” They found that “for every hour spent on emails, the higher hourly levels stress were,” according to heart rate monitors measuring heart rate variability, a validated measure of stress and depression. Put more bluntly: Email can negatively affect our hearts and well-being.

The fallout goes beyond physical health consequences. Some workers are so mentally taxed by email, they want to drastically change their lives. In Wakefield Research’s survey on email and burnout, they found that 38% percent surveyed want to quit their job because of email fatigue. Under-40 workers are even more fed up—51% percent want to quit due to email and instant message overload.

Email exhaustion won’t disappear on its own, so instead of ignoring it, we should address it. As Microsoft puts it in their Work Trend Index: “To create a better future of work, addressing digital exhaustion must be a priority for leaders everywhere.” That goes for the self-employed too.

So What’s the Solution to Email Fatigue?

Better email organization is an obvious way to combat email fatigue, but “such skills are not universal and their lack may lead to a number of negative outcomes,” according to the academics from the study on email, productivity, and stress.

Still, options exist for those without inherent organizational skills, such as SaneBox, our email service that organizes messages for you. SaneBox’s A.I. analyzes your email history to learn what’s important to you and then moves distractions to a SaneLater folder, newsletters to SaneNews, emails copied to you to SaneCC, and flat-out annoyances to SaneBlackHole.

And while our A.I. is quick on the draw, you can also teach it by simply moving an email to whatever folder you want, informing the system where similar emails go in the future. The benefits are huge—important emails will no longer get buried in your inbox, while everything else is tucked away for later review (or not).

Productivity goes up. Heart rates go down. Workloads stabilize. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned for our upcoming post on improving your email habits!