How to Screw Up Someone Else’s Inbox Without Even Trying (and How to Stop)

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Email. It makes us feel popular when we have it. When we have too much of it, it makes us feel like withdrawing from society, growing our toenails out to ruler length, stop shaving all our body hair and get back to workin' on our manifesto. There's an inherent gamification in zapping our inbox down to zero, and sometimes we get a little hasty in marking stuff as read. I recently switched to a new email client, Postbox -- and I got Inc. Well contributor Jill Salzman to switch, too -- and now that I've got all my different accounts collected in one spot, I have another monster toothache: People hijacking email threads about one topic to ask quick, unrelated questions.

Allow me to put on my Frasier Crane pants on and give a little etiquette lesson here: stop it. Stop it right now.

I know. I'm being a grump. But bear with me for a few.

Imagine your email inbox is a dresser drawer because, well, that's what it really is. It has different compartments for you to file different essentials into. Shirts go here. Socks go there. Underwear here. It's the same with your inbox. Work stuff goes here. Personal stuff goes there. Spam goes… in the trash.

If you're an entrepreneur or just any sort of a professional who's an adult, you have a lot of things to manage. Tons of different aspects of your life. Different jobs. Different hats. You wouldn't cram your button-down shirts into you tie-clip drawer, would you?

Then why are you sending me a quick email to ask whether I received another email in an unrelated thread on something completely unrelated? I'm no GTD guru, and it's entirely possible all the gurus disagree with me, but last I checked staying organized is about finding a system that works for you -- not about adhering to what some total stranger says works for them. So, yes, I realize the irony in my writing all this out -- but this is what works for me. And I can't be alone. All I know is that whenever I'm on hold for a call for an interview for this site or anywhere else, I sift through my old emails and find countless, countless, countless emails in one thread responding to something else.

I understand our attention spans are shrinking, but I think you're actually gumming up the works more by trying to "just add one other quick thing while I still have you." Send another quick email, make it short, and keep it to the point.

Now if you excuse me, I have some grammars lessons to give to the Jewel-Osco near my house about why the checkout aisle should read "10 items or fewer" and not "10 items or less." 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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