Productivity cult-leader Merlin Mann popularized a concept called Inbox Zero, which holds an empty email inbox up as an ideal state, not unlike Buddhist nirvana. But much like that permanently enlightened state, Inbox Zero is very, very hard to attain. How many useless CC's or "Thanks!" emails have you had forced on you today? Even if you just delete them, it still feels like homework. Enter "The Email Game," an utterly ingenious webapp from Baydin that turns this sorry state of affairs into something more adrenalizing, like speed chess. Basically, the more stupid emails you mercilessly scythe out of your inbox (there's a running timer), the more points you earn.
The interface is gloriously simple. The Email Game asks permission to connect to your inbox (it works with Gmail for free, or Outlook/Exchange in the paid enterprise version), and then displays emails one at a time under a custom dashboard designed to get you in and out of each soul-withering message fast. The faster you take action on a message — any action — and get it out of your face, the more points you earn.
The Email Game borrows its functionality from the famous (and also cult-like) "Getting Things Done" system, in which any incoming work-stimulus has only three responses: Do Now (in this case, respond to the email or delegate it), Schedule for Later (called "Boomerang" here), or Delete. If you ruthlessly boil every email down to one of those options, chopping through them quickly — versus letting them pile up by the thousands into a huge bolus of digital anxiety — becomes easy, and even addictive.
The ticking clock and the points are key: In an inspired touch, the game penalizes you if you take more than three minutes to respond to an email (move it or lose it, Tolstoy!), or, worse, simply skip an email without taking any action. Decisiveness is all. Who cares if your co-workers think you've transformed into a curt jerk? Coffee is for closers, chumps.
So why does this bit of "gameification" seem so effective when almost every other kind is just so much b.s.? After all, those points you earn are completely meaningless. But here's the thing: Regaining control over your inbox isn't. That's a skill that takes practice and action, and that's what The Email Game gamifies. The points aren't just numbers you rack up by mindlessly mashing a button. You really do earn them — or more importantly, what they represent: the priceless knowledge that email is now your bitch, not the other way around.