Email’s Friendly Fire –

Link: Email’s Friendly Fire –

You know it, I know it, and anybody who works in an organization knows it.

We are organizationally overrun by email. I’m not talking about the spam we get in our gmail or hotmail accounts. I’m talking about the bread and butter communications used to drive business in the modern workplace.

My organization RUNS on its email, it is the communication fuel that drives just about every interaction with coworkers and customers. But I get on the order of 100 emails a day on a variety of subjects, all coming from coworkers, not spam. “That’s not too bad,” you’re saying, “I get 200 messages a day.” Sound absurd? It’s not, I know for a fact that the many of the senior staff in my organization get that many when you count customers as well.

I ran across this article, written by Rebecca Buckman, in today’s Wall Street Journal on organizational software that’s used to sort and filter, not spam, but REAL messages. I’m going to take some commentary license, and change the purpose of the article, because it focuses on some software that helps organize the inbox of the driven down masses.

A couple of things I think are really worth noting here are the messages that are sent out not as messages that require action on the recipients part, but rather as the term “colleague spam” will become known.

You know the messages I’m talking about, you’ve seen them, and you’ve received them and you probably, willingly or not, sent them. They are the messages that have either a superfluous recipient on them because of a CYA factor or a broadcast message to everyone about “I’ll be on vacation tomorrow…”

Here’s the problem, business and our culture is being inundated with hundreds of pieces of information per day, we are exposed to so much, so fast, so often that having Blackberry’s is quickly becoming a requirement in many workplaces.

Buckman writes “Last year, the average corporate email user received 126 messages a day, up 55% from 2003, according to the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto market research firm.”


This all stems from the notion that we’re being more productive. In fact, we are becoming less productive. The fact of the matter is, Buckman quotes “By 2009, workers are expecting to spend 41% of their time just managing emails.”

Holy Cow! Nearly 50% of my time managing the influx of messages I’m receiving?! I have to ask myself in those circumstances am I really being productive and giving quality attention to the issues I address?

Many businesses are declaring an occasional “Email Moratorium Day,” where team members use any other medium to communicate OTHER than email. Where I to mention an “Email Moratorium” to some individuals (especially at my place of business) it would generate a visceral response; much like a crack addict suffering withdrawal (what does THAT say about this subject?).

Ok, so in most places a moratorium isn’t a practical solution, but there are ways to stem the addiction:

  1. Be really conscious of the when and if a message is REALLY necessary (I’m not talking about limiting communication, I’m talking about whether or not the janitor needs to know you have a dentist appointment and won’t be in until noon when you send it to “everybody”).
  2. Does the recipient list you have on your message really reflect the true audience of the communication, or are you just trying to CYA, or make a power play by sending false bravado to (among others) your boss.
  3. Can your message be more effectively communicated through some other means (like getting up from your desk and walking down the hall, apart from the additional exercise, the communication becomes more personal), so often email is used as the de-facto communication method when the communication requires little more than a phone call or a visit.
  4. Avoid using the “Reply to All” when at all possible, and reply only to the original sender, there’s no need to chime in to everybody just to say “Me too.”
  5. Know the limits of what email can provide, if a message is going back and forth between two people like a ping-pong ball, it’s time to pick up the phone, or walk down the hall.
  6. Just as with most things in life, apply the Golden Rule, if you don’t appreciate receiving email, why do you think that others will appreciate your superfluous email.

Here’s an excellent link on Email: Do’s and Don’ts from Stephen Wilburs of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Thanks very much to Rebbeca Buckman of the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Willburs of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Kristan Arnold, author of Email Basics:  Practical Tips To Improve Team Communication.