There’s no denying that email changed the way we do business. It provides ease of communication, a digital paper trail and a quick way to delegate simple tasks. But it’s also the bane of many people’s workday existence. Few manage to completely conquer their inbox and many have one that is permanently overflowing.

Philosophies on how to deal with email overload abound, from Merlin Mann’s system Inbox Zero to an email charter spurred by a blog post from TED’s curator Chris Anderson. Last month, TechCrunch’s MG Sigler quit email altogether as an experiment.

Going on email strike may sound appealing, but the reality is that few could do it without getting fired. Diversifying communication methods provides some hope for a cleaner inbox. You could try:

  • Face-to-face communication. It may seem counterintuitive in our technology-dependent business world, but one five-minute conversation could save you 10 emails. So stand up, walk 30 feet and ask your colleague that question in person.
  • Instant messages. Whether personal accounts linked to web-based email or company software like Microsoft Office Communicator, instant messages have been helping employees reduce email tallies for years. Sure, IMing can provide its own frustrations, but it also can reduce the time and frustration of cleaning your inbox.
  • Shortmail. This service limits messages to 500 characters in an effort to help people get to the point. Fast Company’s Andrew Carr called it “Twitter for Email,” and if you’re a Twitter user, your Shortmail address is waiting for you. Using IMAP or SMTP, it integrates with existing online and desktop email clients and mobile devices. Anyone with an email can receive your Shortmail message; they’ll just get a notice in your signature to keep their reply short and sweet.

For now, email still reigns as the ultimate workplace communication tool. It’s simply too ubiquitous to abandon. New services like Shortmail may help refine our use of email while a gradual shift to cloud computing may greatly reduce our dependence on email-specific tools like attachments. Perhaps someone eventually will devise a communication system with the flexibility and accessibility of email, minus the hassle. Until then, just do your best to keep that inbox clean.

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