43 Folders

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Marc Eisenstadt: Paying the price of email overload

Eight years of email stats, pass 1

A thought-provoking analysis on the time and attention that a growing pile of email commands. Based on looking at several years worth of archived messages. The hockey-stick spam trends ends up seeming less significant than the raw volume of extra non-email work that email generates.

Marc Eisenstadt says:

So there you have my finer-grained interactions ‘laid bare’. Allowing ZERO minutes of response time for some finer-grained categories (e.g. semi-junk, self/meta, which don’t require reading at all) and ONE-THREE minutes of response times for most categories, plus, say, TEN minutes of response time for an important research category such as ‘main project work, paper writing’, it is trivially easy to get to 2.5 hours per workday assuming a fairly ruthless, ‘one-touch’, knee-jerk email interaction regime. And worse if you deviate from the regime.

All of this paints a very very bad picture. Sure, if you’re “in the business” like we are, then that’s the price you pay. But the pace is quickening (I’ve just tallied what we already knew intuitively), and I have little faith or trust right now in intelligent agents being able to solve my overload problems. Just consider the proportion of emails listed above that are scheduling-related! 43 out of 286, that’s 15%! We already have a tool, Meetomatic, that would handle at least half of those, but of course not everyone uses it. And the other half of that subset tend to require awkward interactions and judgement calls that no delegated agent, human or artificial, can actually cope with.

We’re entering an era in which something that Stowe has often written about is going to become an essential skill: “continuous partial attention.” I thought I was pretty good at it, but I am slowly-but-surely observing everyone around me slipping into a kind of cognitive quicksand, getting increasingly grumpy and stressed out, and I don’t like it.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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