What your email inbox says about you?

Updated: Jeff wrote another follow-on article based on the 700 emails he received on the first one. He seems to have covered the Search stuff i mention below. But none on the personality type itself. Jeff Zaslow has written an excellent article recently in the WSJ titled “Hoarders Vs. Deleters: How you handle your Email Inbox says a lot about you“. Quoting psychologists, the article says that if you have a cluttered inbox, it could mean that the rest of your life is also likely to be cluttered. The article says, further:

On the other hand, if you obsessively clean your inbox every 10 minutes, you may be so quick to move on that you miss opportunities and ignore nuances. Or your compulsion for order may be sapping your energy from other endeavors, such as your family.

I have been thinking about this since I read the artice a few days ago and I think the article has missed 2 key points: 1. Why does one display such behavior?
If you look at one of the widely accepted personality theories – Myers Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI), and within that specifically at the 4th dimension Judging Vs. Perceiving, you will notice that Judgers are more likely to be the 2nd type mentioned above – cleaning the inbox meticulously and Perceivers are likely to be of the first type – keeping their inbox cluttered.  To understand this better, check out The Art of SpeedReading People by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, one of the leading experts in MBTI.  In the above link, when discussing Perceivers and Judgers, Paul and Barbara discuss the example of Doreen and Ruth who do the same job and share the same desk. Doreen
is a Perceiver and she leaves a cluttered desk, whereas Ruth is a Judger and likes a clean desk. They summarize the behavior thus:

A compounding reason that Perceivers often have more paper than Judgers is that Perceivers like to collect as much information as possible, figuring: “Maybe I don’t need this right now, but I might sometime in the future.” This is true whether it is paper, old clothes, books, household gadgets, or just about any other object. Perceivers tend to be pack rats. Conversely, Judgers often take the position: “If in doubt, throw it out!” They reason that if they own something but haven’t used it for a long time, they probably won’t need it anytime soon.

This sort of explains how the Perceiver keeps accumulating emails while the Judger keeps the inbox clean. Being a Perceiver myself (I am a ENFP), I totally understand how this goes on. I have a lot of emails in my inbox. As I grow older I am reaching some sort of balance on the Perceiving Vs. Judging trait, but still i am predominantly Perceiving. Anyone that has seen my desk can attest. Another problem the WSJ article has is that it does not specify whether the inbox is cluttered with unread emails or with already read emails. In my case I would say, it is cluttered with already read emails. 2. Technology comes to the rescue
Perceivers need not despair. In the past, you had to meticulously move the emails into designated folders so that you can retrieve them later when needed. You no longer need to do that. With the advent of desktop search engines (I have used both Google Desktop Search and Windows Desktop Search), you can index your entire email archive and then searching is lightning fast. In fact, this works so well that, once when on a call with a 2 year old acquaintance, i was able to pull up the email correspondence quickly and talk to the person intelligently about the conversation we had 2 years ago.  My acquaintance was so impressed, he asked if I was using some sort of CRM system. What I do these days is to just archive the emails in my inbox every so often so that my inbox does not become too big and just index it for search. If you have tried using Gmail, you can see that Google has completely done away with the concept of folders. Folders are outdated and don’t work well for the amount of emails we get these days. It may have worked when you got 5-10 emails a day. Not anymore. Additionally, one should also use the email management technique I had written about a while ago. I continue to use this technique and it works well for me. Notes & References:
1. There are a lot of other personality profiling techniques and I have used a lot of them. I find MBTI to be more comprehensive. Most other personality profiling techniques have a narrow focus like Relationship Awareness or some such. 2. If you want to explore MBTI further more from the perspective of a business or a career, I would strongly recommend Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger’s book “Do What You Are“.  It is a fantastic book. I have read this book a number of times, i find it extremely useful for understanding myself and my colleagues.