The Psychology of Deferring Email
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It has been said by many, and certainly by me, that a writer will do anything to put off writing. In our procrastination we clean the gunky bits off the stove and puncture our ear drums and start Coursera courses about artificial intelligence and behavioral marketing and bi-amourous poets of 19th century Shanghai.

One could argue that this procrastination is detrimental, and one might be right -- but also, (another) one could point out that active procrastination frees the mind to drift into creative inspirations -- and besides, look how clean the stove is!

Of course, procrastination is hardly restricted to writers -- indeed, Dr. Ferrari, a professor of Psychology at DePaul University, found that 20 percent of the U.S. population are chronic procastinators. Small wonder, then, that there are so many tools that aid and deter procrastination.

Email is rather interesting, from a procrastination standpoint, because it is both something people procrastinate from and use to procrastinate with. The ill effects of the latter have been well documented in studies conducted by research institutions and big budget technology companies alike, but it’s the rise in popularity of tools aiding the former that I’d like to discuss (and get your feedback on, should you feel so obliged).

The snooze button is over half a century old, but it didn’t make a big splash in our inboxes until 2010, when a small startup baked it into a Gmail plugin they called Boomerang. Boomerang has since added a slew of other features (including some fun game-based ones) but their core value remains the same: allow you, the recipient, to decide when an incoming email should return to your inbox.

And it really is a value: it played a big role in Mailbox’s initial success, and now, the ability to defer has become almost de rigueur for new mail apps, Skimbox included.

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Why? Well, because people like it, and they like it because it either gives them more control over their inbox or gives them the perception of having more control over their inbox. When I asked the good people of Twitter if they deferred email, I got affirmative responses, like this one, from from Tim Sell:
“I defer emails to people I love when I want to think about what they said. If my email matters I want it to be good. And then there's stuff I just want to avoid. Like emailing a landlord.”

A common scenario we encountered in our interviews was: Person checks email on mobile device → sees an email requiring a thoughtful response → tries to remember to respond to it once he’s at his desktop computer → forgets to respond at his desktop computer. Defer neatly solves this

Too neatly, perhaps. Mailbox’s swipe makes deferring messages so very easy that it is tempting to tell the lot of them to go away, come again some other day. In a post about Boomerang and email management on The Next Web, Zee writes “The important thing to remember here is that there is only one reason you should ‘boomerang’ an email in the morning: when you are physically incapable of replying because you need more information to respond to the email."

Macdrifter has a similar, more schematic approach: “I defer a lot. I like to think about each input before deciding on the next action. If I can't decide on an immediate next action within 5 seconds, I defer it."

And the beauty of systems like Boomerang is they take over much of the memory onus.  In a review of Mailbox on TechRepublic, Will Kelly notes: “I use this feature often to defer email I receive late in the day and want to respond to when I return from the gym or first thing the next business day."

So yes, bottom line: deferring, while having sisyphean potential, is overall a great help in minimizing email overload.

I should say, though, that for Skimbox, defer is not a major feature. While we started out with it in our swipe menu, a la Mailbox, we ended up moving it to the lefthand menu, and giving move to skim/move to main primary swipe billing. We did this because our core feature is classification, and making reclassification easy to access means we get more input on how the classifier is performing.

In future versions, this may change -- it depends on what the Skimboxers want most.

Want to be a Skimboxer? Become one here.

Want to bring Skimbox's email zen to your entire enterprise? Find out more here.  

 

 

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