You don’t need a mail manager program, no

Mail Manager

Because we all love us some Temple of Busy culture, there’s a belief among a lot of middle/upper managers that they need some kind of mail manager program. Oh God! Cannot keep up with this email! Need some help! For my money, the entire concept of “Inbox Zero” is a complete farce. We’re somehow terrified of automation, and yet we can’t figure out how to stay on top of email? Maybe this is why the machines are coming for our jobs. Email is essentially a giant exercise in “push” vs. “pull,” as well as a rather large cover your ass move. Because no one seems to understand that, we do what we do with everything else: attempt to throw technology at it and hope that will save the day. (Hint: it probably will not.)

So, all these economically-crippling middle managers now need some type of mail manager program. (Or maybe a secretary!) This is going to solve the ills of the world, correct? It’s suddenly going to make Johnny Q. Paper Pusher into a Productivity Stud? Incorrect. And let me quickly explain why.

The worst non-violent screenshot you’ll see today

Feast your eyes on this:

Mail Manager Quote

My friend David sent me this a few days ago. Read the quote. Read it again.

This is one of the dumbest, most pointless things I’ve ever seen online — and that covers a lot of ground. Let me explain this as clearly as I can:

  • If something deserves your full attention, it is important.
  • When something is important, you should prioritize it.
  • Subsequently when you prioritize something, you should find time/a way to respond to it.
  • It is, thus, impossible for something to be “the most important thing in your inbox” and “not responded to” at the same time.

The mail manager and managerial excuses

Managerial excuses are literally everywhere in the working world. Once-per-year performance reviews. “Portals” so you don’t have to speak to your direct reports. Email as a whole. These are all tools designed to let managers believe they are managing, when in fact they are just pussy-footing around and doing absolutely nothing of value. It’s basically a giant shell game whereby “I am so busy and important look at the quantity of work on my plate” has replaced anything remotely connected to true productivity.

This quote above is the essence of managerial excuses. This person is basically saying “This thing is important, and in fact, it’s so important that I will ignore it.” If someone ran up to you on the street bleeding, maybe the first thing you’d say is “Oh God!” You would know this is an important moment. Would you then ignore the bleeding person because it required a full response? Probably not.

But a bleeding person isn’t the same thing as email, right?

Have you ever been on a reply-all thread? One of the closest approximations I could give for it is “a series of people bleeding to death electronically.” So yes, they are similar.

I know there are any number of ass clown middle managing target-chasers in the world who see the above quote and say “Oh God, that’s my life!” Here’s a nice stat from MIT: 67 percent of senior managers can’t name the priorities of the org. More from Harvard/McKinsey: 95 percent of employees at mid-size to large companies don’t know the strategy of the place.

See a correlation between these stats and this picture above? Not yet?

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People have absolutely no idea what the term “priority” even means in a work context. This happens in high-growth companies too. Everything is hair-on-fire, sense-of-urgency bullshit. Priority died in the flood.

What does this all have to do with mail manager problems?

If you can’t set your own priorities — many managers cannot — and email overwhelms you this much, a mail manager problem isn’t going to help you. Same deal: if all you do is promote assholes, you don’t get to “employee engagement” with software.  You get there by, uh, promoting less assholes.

If you want to be productive (and less stressed), you need to understand your goals and how to move through them in a high-priority way. As this pull quote above shows, many people absolutely do not. A mail manager ain’t coming to save you.

Ted Bauer