Checking my emails has become as essential to my daily routine as eating breakfast. I treat my inbox like Instagram—frequently refreshing it to check if I’ve received feedback from my boss, a reply about that internship I’m looking forward to, or any more assignments to stack on top of my never-ending to-do list. Whether it’s within minutes of waking up or an hour after getting home from work, my thumb is constantly heading toward that envelope icon.
My first exciting encounter with email occurred when I was fifteen. I was sitting in the school library when I checked my email to find that Melissa Giannini, NYLON’s then-editor-in-chief, had responded to an inquiry I’d sent a couple of weeks prior. I remember widening my eyes at the sight of the new email in my inbox and dramatically thinking, so this is how it feels to communicate like an adult. I’d been going back and forth between my parents and teachers, asking for advice on how to write friendly and polite emails. I felt so proud of myself as I typed my response and took a deep breath before I hit send.
Sometimes, I thoroughly enjoy writing fancy emails with pretentious formalities because it makes me feel more competent and clever than I really am. When I was new to the world of email, I liked experimenting with various sign-offs, writing lots of emails at a time to utilize the schedule send feature, and even re-reading some of the messages in my Sent folder. It was exciting to be young and corresponding professionally with adults about projects and work. I even felt empowered somehow; I was genuinely aware of the weight of my achievements and took pride in my eloquence. As ostentatious as it sounds, regularly writing emails made my fifteen-year-old self feel fulfilled.
As I grew more accustomed to emails, something shifted in me and the way I happily approached emails. The novelty wore off as my inbox became overwhelmingly swamped with new messages. I no longer checked my inbox with excitement, but rather an emotional dread similar to how I’d feel doing my least favorite chore on a horrible day. I eventually grew sick and tired of having to write those pretentious formalities that made me feel important. I realized that pushing to sound “clever” in my emails was mainly an effort to establish a false sense of security for myself—some sort of cure to impostor syndrome. I’d add links, a logo, and a job title to my signatures partly to make myself feel better after exchanging emails with people who were studying at that one prestigious university that hadn’t accepted my application.
After some time, I began to perceive email as an inadequate communication method. Many of us talk like regular people in office group chats and real life, so why should I have to bother formatting polite emails when I’m only sending documents? Is it that outlandish to just attach a file without writing anything? Besides, we’re bound to get a quicker response by simply texting or calling, and it’s frustrating having to read through email threads. If it’s not the best way to communicate, why is it seen as the default option? Are we all simply too used to email to collectively switch to a more accessible platform?
As I gradually grew more familiar with corporate settings, I came to realize that the way I feel about email probably reflects how I think about work in general. It’s become such a massive chunk of my life that it feels strange when I allocate time to rest. Emails follow me around even when I’m taking breaks; I’m still logged in on my phone, and I often get notifications after office hours. I’m reminded of work when I’m taking time off, and I often find myself overwhelmed by waves of guilt for my lack of productivity, even when I’m supposed to be resting.
This love-hate relationship with email isn’t uncommon, and to some people, it unsurprisingly just consists of pure hatred. Email is already ingrained within academic and corporate culture, making it hard to avoid—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make this brooding form of social media more bearable for everyday use.
One of my biggest problems was definitely with length. While it annoyed me when other people sent me unnecessarily long emails that could have been significantly shorter, I realized that I used to do the same thing with the formalities I mentioned earlier. Learning to write brief yet comprehensive responses or explanations helped me a lot—sometimes, having pre-made templates that I could come back to and copy-paste came in handy, too. We’re all busy, and sorting through so many emails is more time-consuming than it is productive, especially if we’re dealing with blocks of text. Straightforwardly convey information; avoid lingering on small talk or long-winded sentences, make good use of bullets and lists, and put any more details in a file if possible.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether email is the most appropriate form of communication for a particular project or conversation. Who doesn’t hate those endless strings of emails that could have just been a five-minute conversation on a separate messenger app? If a project needs further discussion, I just put in my phone number or other contact details when I’m responding to somebody or in my first email when I’m asking for someone’s help. Honestly, we move from email to WhatsApp 99% of the time right after phone numbers are exchanged, which further proves to me how emails are so poorly formatted for having conversations.
Anything else related to feeling like I’m not achieving enough or I don’t deserve more rest because of how I interact with emails has to do with my work habits. Because emails are always there, on the same laptops that we use to binge-watch on Netflix and the same phones we use to video-call our loved ones, it becomes difficult to distinguish the personal and professional boundaries. This has notably been a challenge amid the pandemic, where many of us are working or attending school from home, and it’s confusing to determine when we should stop to take a break. While I’m still trying to figure this out, I’ve learned that making daily schedules and setting timers to stop working is very helpful. It’s okay to constantly remind myself that there’s always the following day to reply to an email.
I still find some excitement when organizing things via email, and I do feel pretty good when I see a response from somebody cool that I reached out to, but overall, emails are exhausting. It feels great to complain about it with other people, and because I’ve done it so often, it’s made writing emails feel somewhat more manageable. I hate email, and most other people hate it, too, so we might as well make everything as easy as possible for each other. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by emails, but I believe the key to working around all of that is to simplify anything you can, ask to text whenever possible, and prioritize rest, always.
By Jordinna Joaquin
Illustration by J. Longo