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Dealing with email overload

Posted by  Robyn —October 26, 2007
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Research company IDC says that 39.7 billion person to person emails buzz around the world each day. Hardly surprising given that I have worked in organisations where people used email to arrange meeting for lunch with someone two desks away. That’s why I like what’s happening at INTEL a lot. Three weeks ago 150 of their engineers participated in the first of what will be ongoing “Zero email Fridays”. They haven’t banned email entirely. It’s a month long trial that’s designed to encourage people to phone each other or meet up face to face. The idea behind this is, of course, that it will encourage more direct, free-flowing communication and and a better exchange of ideas. Getting up and walking across the corridor to talk to someone is a simple activity that contributes to building personal networks.

And if you feel that you have 39.7 billion emails or thereabouts sitting your inbox calling your name, you might be interested in the concept of email bankruptcy espoused by Lawrence Lessing on WIRED, where you can simply refuse to work through that truly frightening number of emails you are hoarding…most of which are awaiting action or a reply. Just hit the Delete button and start again with a clean slate. What’s your take on it? Would there be significant consequences if you declared email bankruptcy today? Have we become too email dependent? Anyone like to join me in deleting the entire contents of their inbox?

About  Robyn

9 Responses to “Dealing with email overload”

  1. Shawn Callahan Says:

    We did a project for a bank in Melbourne on the topic of trust in their call centre. Using our narrative approach we found that the management were big users of BCC, especially to reprimand staff. This was a big problem because as staff were temporarily promoted to the management ranks to fill spots (acting up) they saw the BCC messages flying about. And of course they said to their colleagues, “did you know management is talking about us behind our backs.” We suggested they ban BCC as a symbolic gesture and also institute a no email Friday.

  2. Scott McArthur Says:

    BCC and even CC are the darth vadar of emails – ban it – destroy – kill!!! Not sure about no email days though as I have been denied important information from clients on certain days “because it’s no email day!”. Silly! Let’s just have converstation days instead.

  3. Shawn Callahan Says:

    The no email Friday idea only works for people who are co-located, otherwise it is a silly idea. I totally agree about bcc being poisonous. CC can be used but easily misused for grandstanding.
    I had a colleague in IBM who created a rule in his Notes email that deleted and email that was CC’d to him. He figured that if it was important enough they would put his name on the TO field.

  4. Nathan Zeldes Says:

    No Email on Friday (which we’re testing at Intel in one group at this time) is indeed better called “conversation day” – it’s about encouraging voice conversation within a group, in preference to “emailing across the aisle”. Of course, where such conversation is ipossible or unsuitable, email is clearly permitted.
    I’d argue that it makes sense to do this not only for co-located teams but for “synchronous teams”, i.e. ones in the same time zone, give or take a zone – since voice conversation by telephone is almost as effective as Face to Face in this context.

  5. Shawn Callahan Says:

    You are so right Nathan. It’s easy to forget the humble telephone (or IP equivalent). I like the positive approach you suggest as well.

  6. Rick Ladd Says:

    I don’t think it’s necessary to stop using email; merely to stop using it incessantly and for every type of communication. One of the things I’ve been harping about at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne – where I’ve been involved with our KM efforts for almost a decade – is the use of instant messaging for most conversation, email for administrative communications and announcements, and AskMe (our Social Network and SME tool) for all technical conversations, which generally contain intellectual capital/property (and which almost everyone still does with email).

    I like the idea of conversation days. People have forgotten the art of conversation, especially if they use instant messaging extensively.

  7. Robyn Ciuro Says:

    Thanks for the comment Nathan. I very nearly called this post “Conversation Friday” but went for the email focussed heading instead. And I well remember deleting plenty of half finished emails to my colleagues in other states and picking up the phone while thinking…”This is getting too complicated to explain in words. Let me talk to them about it.”

  8. Shawn Callahan Says:

    I would add to this Rick by saying that instant messaging is also useful for maintaining a sense of community among colleagues. See this post I made back in 2005 http://www.anecdote.com.au/archives/2005/08/the_role_of_ins.html

  9. Rick Ladd Says:

    Shawn: Thanks for the link to that 2005 post of yours. Good stuff. Sorry I took this long to get to it. Now that I’m in this new virtual Masters program in KM at Cal State Northridge, I’m inundated with good things to read and I sometimes lose track of where I’ve been. Getting back here was somewhat serendipitous, but I’m glad I did.
    I’m afraid my company, especially our “mother” corporation, United Technologies, is actually going somewhat backward in their recognition of the value of social networking. More and more I find sites are now blocked that I have previously used to make connections and get answers to questions that are useful for me doing my job. They’re making retirement look more attractive all the time.
    However, as long as I’m still there I will continue fighting for the use of tools, as well as the cultural changes necessary to make the most of them, that enhance our community and increase our collaborative and innovative capabilities. I believe instant messaging does that admirably. Thanks to your post, I have even more ammunition.

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