I've been working with electronic messaging (email, etc.) in one form or another for over 30 years. Back in 1992, I (successfully) sold a server-software product that promised to help people deal with the "flood" of 40 emails a day! Much of my executive coaching business has revolved around helping professionals manage their email (many receive up to 400 a day).
I've had a front-row seat to the rise of email along the whole way. For many people, it's grown into a monstrous beast. A couple years ago, McKinsey & Company found that workers spend up to 28% of their day writing and reading emails. Inboxes fill up over lunch breaks. We're all guilty of being to quick to send to others whose email is just as out-of-control as ours.
I think that's at least half of the issue: who's creating the problem. I also think we can definitely find ways to address this together.
As email has grown in reach and volume, methods for effectively dealing with it have not kept up. I see several reasons for this:
- People tend to think that email itself is the problem, not how they use it, so they look for other solutions instead of better ways to use what they have
- Vendors like IBM, Microsoft, Google, and others continuously promise shiny new solutions that distract from the real problem without addressing it
- Email is typically considered a receiver's problem. I've found almost nothing that addresses how email is sent.
Methods for effectively sending email are certainly not widely shared. I'm trying to help fill that gap -- that's why I offer my Top 10 Tips for writing email as an incentive to follow this blog.
I think email, as a medium of communication, has some fantastic capabilities that can't be matched by almost anything else, and I think the solution to the problem of too much email needs to be a shared and social solution -- an agreement.
Here's a framework I came up with for thinking about these kinds of problems and solutions, based on my years of research in productivity and knowledge management. My "value equation" describes this as Value = Knowledge x Methodology x Technology (or V=KMT).
In the case of email and how we use it, our "T" is moderately high (because this is a reasonably capable technology), but our "M" for using it (as senders and receivers) is low.
In other words, I don't think we're going to collectively relieve frustration with email without two things:
- Shared knowledge on how to process email effectively
- Shared agreement on how to write and send email and when to use it
What we need is an email agreement -- or "egreement" for short. I don't think it needs to be anything formalized, but there should be a general practice that people recognize and follow.
I hope you'll join me in creating and following this!
P.S. When tweeting about this issue and how to resolve it, please use the hashtag #egreement.
@EricMack | @eProductivity
LI: Eric Mack
For more about my V=KMT framework, see here.
More from Inside.eProductivity:
Why your late-night emails are hurting your team - [read more]
4 steps to recover from email overwhelm - [read more]
"Handshake" image by Duisenberg [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.