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Do Chat Tools Make Inbox Zero Possible?

Inbox zero

The average person spends 28 percent of their workweek reading and responding to emails. That’s nearly one-third of productivity lost to the “ding!” of an incoming message. Part of the reason is that most of us are addicted to doing email wrong. Seventy percent of emails are viewed or dealt with within six seconds, which means every time a message comes in, employees get distracted.

Even with such fervor for a quick response, our inboxes are stacking up with unanswered, unfiled, or simply forgotten messages. Here are the facts:

  • 80 percent of email users have between 72 and 21,000 items in their inbox
  • 20 percent of email users have more than 21,000 emails in their inbox

As much as inbox zero (the process of keeping your inbox empty or nearly empty at all times) is talked about, it’s almost never achieved. Why is that? And what can we do to about? There are a few challenges we face to overcoming our email addiction and achieving inbox zero, and a few ways chat tools like Chanty, Slack or Slack alternatives can help. Let’s check them out.

Internal email

Internal email is the biggest culprit when it comes to email-related productivity killers — 40 percent of time is wasted on internal emails alone. Everyone from side-by-side workers to remote teams are guilty of emailing as a habit, even when in-person communication is possible.

The truth is, we’re often just so ingrained in working on a screen that talking to one another via the computer makes sense. But it’s clogging our inboxes. A chat tool can completely eliminate internal email. It’s natural (and even fun) for employees to use. Once you have a chat tool in place, set a “no internal email” policy and watch those inbox numbers creep down.

Lengthy threads

Everyone hates a reply all chain. It either piles up your inbox or no matter how many times you press delete, just keeps popping up. Oftentimes it’s necessary to loop multiple team members into a conversation, but occasionally someone gets trapped on the thread who doesn’t need to be there.

Chat channels are the solution to this problem. Custom chats can be created between specific team members or channels can exist for frequent communicators. Individual channel members can remain active in or mute channels based on whether they need to be deeply involved or just occasionally informed.

Information storage

Emails often linger in our inboxes when we think they might be useful later on. It’s sort of like those pieces of clothing in our closet that we swear we’ll need one day, but haven’t worn in five years. Worst yet, when we finally need a certain email, they may have been automatically deleted or difficult to find.

The best chat tools have an unlimited message history and smart search capabilities. You can easily find a conversation or file at any time, without it taking up real estate in your inbox.

No “off” switch

There certainly are features that allow you to mute or pause email, but they’re often tough to get at. Employees who want to eliminate the distraction of the email often are only left with the option of closing their email all together. This can be stress inducing — the worry that someone needs to reach you starts to set in.

Chat tools do this better. Quiet hours can be set without the tool being off. So while you won’t get a notification alert, you will be able to tell at a glance if a message is there. Many tools also allow you to set a status — something email doesn’t allow — to tell your teammates when you’re away or want quiet.

Hierarchical communication

Despite widespread use, email still feels formal. For an entry-level employee, emailing a senior-level leader can be incredibly intimidating. Emails often work their way up the ladder, resulting in multiple crowded inboxes.

Chat feels more informal and natural. Every employee at every level can easily reach team leaders and business decision makers. And multiple people on one thread eliminates any uneasiness. This flattening of the lines of communication can help keep inboxes lean.

Intelligence

Filters and smart email settings tend to be counterintuitive. Email intelligence, without integrations of extra systems, is really limited.

Today’s chat tools are getting smarter and smarter. Beyond setting status and quiet hours as discussed, some tools enable smart responses. So common questions get automatic answers. This makes chat tools a time-saver that employees naturally want to use over email.

Integration

Because chat tools are a relatively new business “must-have,” providers are remaining more up-to-speed than email providers with software integrations. Chat tools that freely integrate with your project management software, automation tools, file storage, and more make it easy to create custom productivity platforms that keep your inbox empty.

Inbox zero isn’t going to be every email user’s end goal, but we all should be on a mission to minimize our inbox count and more importantly, reduce the amount of time we waste on email. Chat tools, which are smarter, more intuitive, and more streamlined than email, are a step in the right direction.

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Taylor Burke

Taylor Burke is a contributor for TechnologyAdvice.com, covering internal communications. When she’s not in front of her screen, you can find Taylor reading, cooking, running, or hanging with her dog — but rarely all four at once.

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