Email isn’t evil. How we inflict it on each other might be! 

Email arrived with the dawn of the Internet in 1971. Despite its death being predicted multiple times over the years, it remains the primary means of communication for most in the workplace.

It has hung on because of its insane levels of flexibility. I’ve seen email used for..

  • Formal communication
  • Instant messaging
  • File transfer
  • Document archive
  • Notification center
  • Post It Notes
  • Task list
  • Workflow
  • Team management
  • Collaborative working
  • News letters
  • Surveys
  • Image gallery

Because we can use it for this multitude of things, doesn’t mean we should.

The underlying problem is that you have no control over what you receive in your inbox. Anybody can send you anything. By making email a centralised repository for absolutely everything, we end up entering into servitude with our inbox.

Each working day involves whizzing through incoming email, trying to pick out what requires action on your part and what can be ignored. Some people try and limit themselves to pre-defined blocks of ’email management’ time. But many more work with their email open, chirping away in the background like a hyper active budgie.

Independent research from Atos estimates that the average worker spends 40% of their time just managing incoming email. Worse still, much of this time is gauged to have no measurable benefit.

There’s plenty of strategies to try and wrestle email under control. Inbox Zero, enforcing people to write briefly with well defined actions, discouraging the dreaded mass CC (and its moustachioed evil brother BCC). These all stop short of tackling be larger issue. We need to just stop using email.

Well, I say stop, but there are some uses for it that are unavoidable. Try and sign up for a website without using email for verification – devilishly tricky. Also, in terms of a one to one communication platform for external contacts it’s hard to beat for ease of use.

Inside our organisations however, we can make massive strides to stem the flow of internal email chatter. For every point on that list I made above, there’s a better dedicated web service or application that can handle it properly.

“Ah – but aren’t we just distributing the workload elsewhere, not actually reducing it” I hear you cry. True, some of those tasks we need to do as part of our jobs, they are unavoidable. But by placing them into clearly defined systems we’re forcing ourselves to treat them as different entities. By virtue of them not all being in the same place, we’ve got half a chance of managing time effectively on each task and not getting interrupted by the chirp of unrelated incoming email.

Email absolutely has a place, but we should really try not to inflict it on each other quite so much. Especially inside our places of work.