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January 17, 2008


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Simon Carswell

I still think what I wrote here
is applicable, with the possible exception that search is improving in Windows now. In a way it's a bad thing that search is improving, as that makes the adoption of better tools even less likely....

Michael Idinopulos

Thanks for the reference. I wholeheartedly agree with your post. My favorite sentence is when you say "Nowadays email is used for pretty-much every kind of unstructured communication". It's that word "unstructured" that really nails it. Email unleashed unstructured collaboration on a grand scale. That was a very positive thing, but it certainly created some bad habits that are dying hard.


I can think of two motivations that may be the cause of increased email usage.

I am a culprit of motivation one: CYA. I have a tendency to confront others at work. Usually it's constructive confrontation and results in an agreed resolution. However, for fear that verbal agreements will not be honored, I tend to draft emails about the resolution. Not only do I send these emails to the other party, I also copy my personal email (since I am unable to archive my work email). I would bet that many people suffer from motivation one.

I observed motivation two in one of the people whom I confronted. This person rarely gets up from his seat. In fact, part of what fueled our confrontation is this person's annoying tendency to shout over the cubes when he wants to talk to other people. When I put my foot down and stopped responding to his shouting, he began to communicate solely by email. Now, long, tedious emails litter my in-box. Laziness and passive-aggression are trends that I see in the work place, and these trends seem to generate loads of emails.

Jason Rothbart

I think another huge factor is that email is the lowest common denominator. Most companies simply don't have a better place for people to collaborate or share ideas so they default to email. It isn't a great option, but I suppose it is better than nothing. I wrote about this specific problem in our blog (http://blog.groupswim.com/2008/01/22/why-any-collaboration-strategy-must-include-email/) and hypothesize that any effective collaboration solution must involve email in some form, or the chances for its adoption are low.

Amir - I reduced Email Overload

My favorite topic :) Too many emails!
1. What you don't control you can't stop and hence you need to manage it.
2. At one stage I had a default auto-responder in the lines of: "all emails not handled after 10:00 are deleted. If you didn't get a reply, and need one, email me again". I would then delete anything in my inbox at 10:01. Although extremely aggressive it seems to have solved a lot of my email overload at the time. However conditions changed, and I'm no longer able to do that.
3. Another culprit is that no-one ever has "email training". Anyone can press "new"/"reply" and compose an email. But are they doing it correctly? Is your subject a reflection of what's in the email? Are your thoughts clearly expressed in the body of the email? Do you know what you’re going to say BEFORE you’re writing it?
4. "Thanks" and its synonyms aren't necessary. Sending an email with the single word "thanks" does absolutely nothing. If we helped you, we know you're grateful. If you're really grateful, pick up the phone and call us.
5. Keep your emails organized. Use folders, and file the emails in the respective folders. Use a program to help you file those emails try MoveIT or Speedfiler. (search google for "moveit email overload" or "speedfiler email overload")
6. Don't originate an email if you can get up, walk to the person in the other room and ask the question! If you can call the person and ask the question do the same! And yes, confirm in writing if necessary.
7. You want to tell something to your friends? Call them! I'm amazed at how many people bother to call the radio station to send their regards to someone!!! - instead of trying to get through to the radio station, call the person and tell them hi. Instead of an email, call them (their your friend aren't they?)

If you send less emails, you will receive less emails (eventually).

Keli Kringel

Having checked my Inbox and sent mail count over the past 6 months, I find I am somewhat less than average, at around 120 sent plus received per day. That has been a pretty consistent level over the past 8 years or so for me. Still, how to manage this volume is a problem. I tend read and process each and every email, if not within the day, then within 2 days. I think I must get less than many of my colleagues, and also handle them more diligently.

I have noticed that many colleagues don't even respond to their emails anymore. I think this has been progressive of the past few years. They don't seem to expect you to either. If you don't respond, the issue will 80-90% of the time, just "go away" getting solved elsewhere. If it's important, you'll get a phone call following up about it - without the batting of an eye as to why you didn't respond to their email – they know how it is. When people do respond to emails, sometimes the rush is so great that spelling/typing goes to pot, or the response is partial. I have seen emails from Director or VP level people that cannot be read after 3 attempts because the spelling is so hacked.

I was thinking today about how, as one processes ones email (either as it comes in or as one goes through it all chronologically at a selected time), one jumps from subject to subject, sometimes ending up with 3, 4 or even 5 threads of work happening at once. It is not uncommon to be working within 5 levels deep of interruption. This decreases the depth, efficiency, and sometimes even effectiveness and accuracy of any one task one applies oneself to. I am also convinced that this practice of juggling, at a shallow level, several subjects continuously all day long which we are all experiencing, cannot be good for the mind, and by extension society as a whole. I even found myself today trying to be on a live phone call and also watching an online recording at the same time, trying to put one ear on one and the other on the other.

I was thinking it would be better to organize my email into folders for each "project" that I am working on and just parse out my emails as they come in into those folders, to be read at a later time when I choose to work on that project. (I have generally about 10 projects or more at once.)

The problem with that would be, I think, that what you think of as a distinct project would morph over time, blending and separating subjects organically over time. Unstructured does not work, but a hard structure does not work either.

Himanshu Bansal

Can you please share the link to Wall Street Journal article?

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