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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.

Alan Nelson's picture

I get plenty; they're nearly...

I get plenty; they're nearly all actionable. That said, I (and the folks in our firm) receive significantly less that our peers in other organizations, and certainly less than our clients.


1) We put "pull" information where it belongs: On the web. The core of our intranet is a blog, which we use to post any information that would otherwise find its way into an email distribution. If someone's hosting lunch at Chili’s for Suzie from AR’s birthday or there are Dunkin' minis in the break room, you need to check the blog to know. And if you miss something important because you don't read the blog, you're accountable for the miss.

2) We do a good job of matching message to media based on the principles of "media richness." (Read more about media richness here). The result is that we spend more time in face-to-face or telephone conversation, which is more efficient than email for a whole range of topics.

Works for us, and thanks to the liberal use of David Allen's Getting Things Done Outlook add-in across our firm, we nearly all go to bed each night with our inbox an empty box.




An Oblique Strategy:
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