Email is Evil…And It’s Your Fault

We’ve heard it ad nauseam: technology is supposed to make our lives easier, save us time. And every time a new gadget or an upgrade of an existing one hits the market, this mantra is repeated…despite the unmentioned time and money required to upgrade said gadget.

Email was hailed as the great time saver. Shoot your colleague a quick email instead of schlepping to her cubicle for a face-to-face. Technology researcher Alexandra Samuel was fed up with the ever-escalating number of emails she received. They were taking her attention away from more important tasks. So she devised a plan to “tame the beast” and shared this plan in an article in the “Workplace Technology” section of a March issue of the Wall Street Journal.

According to her article, a startling 40% of white-collar workers spend an even more startling three hours a day on email. That’s almost half an average workday. Even more depressing is only a mere 6% expect their email to decline in the next two years. Ugh, where is my Prozac???

There are at least two major problems with email (actually way more but I will save those for another day). First, there are all sorts of irresponsible emailers. In some work places and in our personal circles there are folks who think the latest Youtube video of a cat dancing is a worthy addition to your bulging inbox.

But the more insidious disease for most of us is non-productive, but work related emailing. This problem cuts two ways. First, there are the people who SPAM our inbox with email that doesn’t add any real value. Ignore emails that don’t REQUIRE your attention if at all possible. If you are purpose driven it will be fairly easy to tell what requires your attention.

Here is the bigger issue. You, and I, self-sabotage. We send emails that are unnecessary or prioritize email over more important work. Here is why…. at least in part.

  1. It is easy. Face it, most of the time we prefer to cross easy tasks off of our list despite their relative unimportance. Crossing things off of our list feels good. We delude ourselves into thinking we are being productive.
  2. It is low risk. It is hard to fail at email…at least as long as you avoid “Reply All”. No body ever got fired for keeping their inbox neat and tidy. We often fear – at least subconsciously – that our efforts won’t pay off, but email allows us to succeed repeatedly.
  3. It’s conspicuous. There is no way to question whether someone is “working” when you get emails from them. We all know that if we send emails throughout the day that people will notice our effort. However, conspicuous behavior doesn’t necessarily create value over the long-run.

We all deserve to believe we can be successful at work! (#6) Don’t hurt your employees’ and peers’ ability to believe in their potential for success by SPAMMING them for your own gratification. Furthermore, don’t hinder your own ability to strive toward something meaningful (#1) by getting sucked into the email wasteland.

Back to Samuel’s email overload. She broke free from email by using other modes of communication to collaborate with colleagues and keep in touch with family. Tweets and texts are short but sweet and don’t absorb large chunks of your time. Drafts make the rounds on Dropbox or Google Drive. Slack, the group-messaging tool, comes in handy for quick questions. And let’s not forget about getting off of our butts and talking to people in person.

The result? Her inbox no longer gives her angina. Perhaps not the loftiest of professional goals but nonetheless a good thing.

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