Too Much Email

Nick Bilton in an article in the NYT:

A research report issued this year by the University of California, Irvine, found that people who did not look at e-mail regularly at work were less stressed and more productive than others.

Gloria Mark, an informatics professor who studies the effects of e-mail and multitasking in the workplace and is a co-author of the study, said, “One person in our e-mail study told us after: I let the sound of the bell and pop-ups rule my life.”

Ms. Mark says one of the main problems with e-mail is that there isn’t an off switch.

“E-mail is an asynchronous technology, so you don’t need to be on it to receive a message,” she said. “Synchronous technologies, like instant messenger, depend on people being present.”Although some people allow their instant messenger services to save offline messages, most cannot receive messages if they are not logged on. With e-mail, it is different. If you go away, e-mails pile up waiting for your return.

Avoiding new messages is as impossible as trying to play a game of hide-and-seek in an empty New York City studio apartment. There is nowhere to hide.

My two top tips for email, if you’re overwhelmed:

  • Don’t have it on all the time, and for God’s sake don’t let it ping or beep at you whenever a message comes in. That way madness lies. For your loved ones as well as for you. I tend to check my emails in the morning and in the evening. Occasionally in the middle of the day…but don’t count on it.
  • Email isn’t instant messaging. If people need an immediate reply they should be using some other technology to contact you. And one of the best ways to ensure you get more email is to keep responding to it promptly! Besides, I often read emails in a spare minute on my phone, when replying isn’t really practical.

I’ve often thought about creating an auto-reply system a bit like a voice menu:

“Thank you for your email. Your message is important to us and will be answered just as soon as one of our representatives is available. Your email is currently number 74 in the queue…”

But as we’ve discussed before, I really think email needs a small cost associated with each message…

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1 Comment

I don’t advocate this – but one strategy for dealing with email backlog: delete them all. If they are/were important, you’ll find out some other way!

Your post, and a conversation in the Owlstone office last week, prompted me to digitally “pen” a few words on a related topic:

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