Too much email

I think that we (“we”==my team, Microsoft, and the Industry) waste way too much time “doing” email, and I am amazed how much we tolerate this waste.  I interact with a lot of people of various levels of influence, and in my experience, the “typical employee” has email running constantly and stops what they’re doing to read or reply to email every time new email arrives.  Sometimes they have rules to filter out some of their mail, but 80-90% of their mail goes directly to their inbox (aka “distraction center”).  I won’t even bring up how news aggregators have contributed to these distractions.  Every time we stop to read email, we are distracted from our “real work”.  “Switching gears” takes time, and will slow your productivity to a crawl.  If you think your job is to read email, you should think again.  It drives me crazy to see how much time is spent dealing with email ineffectively.

Not only do we monitor our email constantly, but we expect others to do the same.  We send email, and get impatient if we don’t get a response right away.  An extreme, but absolutely true example of this is that at one time, I worked with someone who would send email, then walk down the hall to where the recipient sat and ask them “did you get my email?  Do you have a response?”

Here’s a call to action.  Close your email client.  Wait – don’t close it.  First set up a rule that routes everything where your name isn’t on the ‘to’ or ‘cc’ line to a secondary folder.  Set up exceptions for any distribution lists where you need to reply in a somewhat timely manner.  Now close your email client.  Resolve yourself to opening email 2-3 times per day, and dealing with issues addressed to you.  If you must keep email running, do it, but turn off notifications, and only deal with items not sent directly to you once or (at most) twice a day.  I guarantee that if you are “typical”, this will seem outrageous, but I also guarantee that this will make a significant positive impact on your productivity.

Now tasting:  Last night I had a 2002 Malbec from Chateau Ste Michelle.  


Comments (8)

  1. igooi says:

    Cannot agree more!

    IT gives us greater productivity but also waste a lot of our time. We should try to not be so dependent on emails.

  2. Kenneth says:

    hmmm… To each his own distractions…

    How much time did it took you to write this blog entry? How many entries do you do per week?

    I bet it’s not as much time as dealing (interacting?) with e-mail… But blogging can also start getting out of control… And it doesn’t matter if it’s your "official productivity time" (aka work) or "official time to lose" (aka quality time with family) the time one let go…

  3. When I was writing my book I found the need to become ultra-efficient. Around that time Microsoft put out an Outlook Tips thing that showed how to use the new features of Outlook (XP at the time), and my eyes lit up with the ways I could use that information.

    As you suggested, I set up filters to funnel mail, especially from listservs, into folders where I could read it at my leisure. I set up some color/font rules to draw my attention to messages from various people (my boss), and let the "other stuff" fade into the background. Finally, I set up "play a sound" rules so that email from my co-author, tech editor, and publisher had a distinctive sound so I knew immediately to switch to Outlook and see what they needed. Other than that, I could just ignore Outlook for hours at a time, even though it was open.

  4. alanpa says:

    I may actually buy into this blog thing! I don’t get a lot of readers or comments, but the last two posts are perfect. One person who just doesn’t get it, and another who absolutely gets it perfectly – these are both awesome comments specifically for those reasons – thanks.

    btw – the original post took about 5 minutes, and I did it during my "writing time", so I didn’t even have to switch gears to spit it out.

  5. Jeff Atwood says:

    I worked with someone who would send email, then walk down the hall to where the recipient sat and ask them “did you get my email? Do you have a response?”

    I would start printing out my replies to this person and delivering them in person. With a red sticky note on top that says "here’s my response!"

  6. Lloyd D Budd says:

    Exellent suggestions .

    Is there something more fundamental here as well ? In this sea of information , people are trying to drink the whole sea themselves .

    We need "a better" "information delivery systems" .

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