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Open Thread: The value and quality of email at work

40% of office workers spend 0.5-3 hours reading poorly written e-mail | IT Facts | ZDNet.com

More with the email research results:

Information Mapping claims that 80% of those surveyed deem email writing skills are extremely or very important to the effectiveness of doing their jobs. 65% of the respondents spend from 1-3 hours per day reading and writing emails, with 40% "wasting" 30 minutes to 3 hours reading "ineffectively" written emails.

Things is, I keep encountering people who get 100, 200, 300, or more actionable emails each day; not cron notifications, bug list CCs, or lunch at Chili's for Suzie from AR's birthday--I'm talking about real emails that require more than a one-line response or represent some kind of non-email work.

What amazes me is how much of people's email seems to be internal to their company, business unit, or direct team. If I ran a company and learned that most of my employees were spending that much time touching internal email, I'd ask my managers: "For how many and which employees is six hours of email each day adding value to the company?" Maybe that's just me.

Understand: I get that email is the way teams communicate on important stuff, but at a certain point, we're back to the guy from Metropolis, aren't we? I realize my view on this stuff is extreme -- I'm a hobo and I work at home -- but you tell me:

  • How efficient is your team and your company at using email?
  • How much of your day is spent dealing with email that does Good Things for your job or helps increase the value of that for which you're paid?
  • How much is spent just sorting, shuffling, and mining?
  • What one change in your team's email culture would most improve the way you work together?

Feel free to elaborate. And feel free to say you love getting all that email. I'd enjoy hearing a range of views on this.

Also: Non-scientific email poll

How many actionable emails do you get each day? That's email that requires more than a one-line response or requests non-email work.

Mark Morgan's picture

Other than automatic notifications I...

Other than automatic notifications I get maybe 15-20 actionable e-mails a day. I don't envy anybody who gets over 100 e-mails they have to do something with. I'm in the camp where I would prefer to get an e-mail over any other kind of interruption because I am in control. I work in a call center as a supervisor and my desk is right out there in the middle of the work with the minions. I'm constantly interrupted by questions and requests from the people on the front line. People who e-mail me instead of interrupting me jump directly to the top of my Happy List.

A big chunk of my feelings about e-mail is because I've gotten really fast at processing both my physical and e-mail inboxen. When I started GTD in February it took me for-darn-ever to get to the bottom of either my electronic or physical box. Now it's something like 10 minutes.

What drives me crazy now are other people who aren't as on top of things, either due to circumstances or because they haven't yet found the religion of The David. My boss considers it a good day when she gets to less than 100 unread. That's crazy. So I'm constantly interrupting her for decisions that should have been made hours before but weren't because she hasn't even read that e-mail yet. Yuck! (It's pretty clear she has the classic disease of "Do the associated task when you get the mail. So she opens one mail and might spend 20 minutes on it, while 15 more e-mails pile up behind it. I even offered to buy her the GTD for Outlook PDF but I'm talking to myself here. C'est La Vie.)




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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