PEP Tip: We're Drowning In Email


Published by Denis Healy on 20 September, 2013

People everywhere are straining under the weight of junk mail they get at work and home, and before they can get a handle on that, they're also being buried by electrons organized into electronic-mad messages and groupware databases.

There's a curve to this: People get email, they begin to use it, they like it, they use it more, they get overwhelmed by it. I know people afraid to take a week's vacation because of what they're going to find when they logon. You're probably one of them. There's a parallel curve at work: We train staff on a new email system for a day, and they learn to use enough features to communicate. But we don't train them further and they don't know half of the system's features to use it efficiently. We don't maintain an ongoing review of how staff is using the system, and they clutter it up with junk. Information distribution and storage grows out of control.

Ever hear of entropy? It's a law, like gravity. It says that all systems move toward growing disorder and that on the way there, they get more and more complex. That includes your system now. Only vigilant maintenance actions and efforts to simplify things can delay the onslaught of entropy.

We're on the verge of a quantum compounding of the problem through the widespread adoption of groupware, which allows infinitely greater distribution of all information to everyone.

With the naiveté of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who urged us to throw off all laws and return to the natural state, there is a belief that it only all information can be distributed everywhere, a new day will dawn. Well maybe, but we'll all be too tired to appreciate that dawn, having stayed up all night to read the information.

We often fail to distinguish between information that we might want to read and information that requires us to act. A distribution list that disgorges 200 messages a day totally obscures, the three messages that require action. In groupware environments, the act of monitoring everyone's comments across 20 databases is more befitting the KGB than front-line workers.

We also ignore the trade-off between sharing and reviewing information on the one hand and acting profitably on that information on the other hand. Which produces value?

Email overload: save ourselves!

We're waiting for better filters and smart agents to save us, but maybe we have to save ourselves. At the individual level, we need to train knowledge workers to sort and process large volumes of information and work. The colleague who saves 5,000 uncategorized messages, prints all his or her mail to read or is too backlogged to answer email requests this week isn't contributing to a high performance organisation, virtual or otherwise.

At the group level, we must establish a process to end the balance points in our information systems between distributing critical information and performing productive work. We need to monitor the performance of human users as closely as we do network servers. Then we can design and continuously improve communication protocols that allow humans to keep up and maybe even get ahead.

But then again, the thought of being able to keep up with one's email may be as hopelessly idealistic as Rousseau's.

Read more about how PEP can assist with electronic efficiency and email management.


	
		
workplace efficiency, email inbox management, electronic efficiency, work-life balance


 

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