Y Combinator Challenge #28 – Fixing Email Overload

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first

28. Fixing email overload. A lot of people, including me, feel they get too much email. A solution would find a ready market. But the best solution may not be anything as obvious as a new mail reader.

Related problem: Using your inbox as a to-do list. The solution is probably to acknowledge this rather than prevent it.

To say that I get a lot of Email is an understatement.  Thanks to my bff Xobni, I have some statistics to back that up.  Boy, do I love statistics.

In the past 24 hours I’ve received 67 Emails and sent 27.  This is after filtering out 29 Emails from a newsgroup I belong to (although I did read the majority of them) and does not include the 15 messages in my personal Email inbox, the 23 junk mails I received, and the 2 messages I received through Facebook.

So far in 2008 I’ve received 15,067 work Emails from 1,446 different people.  I’ve written 4,268 work Emails. If you assume that on average each mail I’ve written takes up 1/4 of a printed page, that’s the equivalent of writing War and Peace (thanks, Powerset).

My Idea – OutToDo

This idea is a Xobni-like Outlook plug-in that allows you to still work within a familiar environment, but provides a ton of features to help power Email users deal with overloaded inboxes.  Instead of the main interface focusing on an incoming stream of Email with a to-do list attached to it, the focus would be a simple to-do list with Email attached to it. Here are ten additional features to really set this apart.

  1. Have an option to only check for new mail a few times a day.  This is a key tenant of Merlin Mann’s fabulous Inbox Zero approach.
  2. Ability to attach a note to any item.  This will create a link between a traditional to-do app and Email, and will allow users to better organize the action items attached to complex Emails.
  3. Create a flag to resend important mails the next day.  With this approach, any critical Emails that cannot be ignored automatically get sent to the next day, so you can always focus your attention on the items that have been sent within the past 24 hours.  Added bonus: automatically move any items that are in the inbox for more than 48 hours into a “saved mail” folder.
  4. Ability to apply themes.  Ever since the dawn of the cubicle, people have been customizing their workspaces with hee-larious Cathy cartoons or pictures of wet cats hanging from clotheslines.  Having fun themes for people who are into that sort of thing will increase the “water cooler buzz” around this app and create a nice viral effect within the office.  Added bonus: Make fun animations or sounds tied to actions (e.x. Every time you delete an Email, a cat can swoop in and hit the Email with its paw until it explodes into a ball of flames, with accompanying gunshot noises)
  5. Create customized versions to work with the top time management techniques (such as GTD, Inbox Zero, etc..)
  6. Ability to tie into Facebook Connect.  Have an option to send Facebook messages or make wall posts directly from your inbox. 
  7. I think TechCrunch would agree with this one.

  8. Have a separate folder that collects all attachments.  I like the way that Xobni shows me all the files that were sent by a someone, but what I’d really like is a consolidated view that showed all attachments that I’ve received in a single screen, organized by sender.
  9. Create a section to list the top 3-5 things you want to accomplish that day. This is a great technique that allows users to really focus in on the things that are most important to get done.  By recording them at the beginning of the day, it always creates a history of all the important tasks that were done over the past week, month, year, etc..  Added bonus: Option to require users to enter their top tasks prior to their first time opening the inbox for the day.
  10. Add in a Twitter-like status update page.  The status updates could be shared with all other people who have the app installed and are using the same company Email domain (i.e. all @microsoft.com users).  Added bonus: allow users to create custom groups for their teams, friends, etc..
  11. Option to display the plug-in on a separate monitor.  This will allow you to have your normal inbox open on one screen, and the enhanced inbox open on the other.

Any thoughts on this one?  In honor of today’s post, skip the comments and shoot me an Email instead: kleneway@hotmail.com

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