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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.

Liam's picture

Looking at the procmail log,...

Looking at the procmail log, over October I got just over 8,000 emails. On average about 250 a day. 20 of which are actionable.

I deal with email in a slightly odd way. Firstly, all email hits my server, gets a little processing by procmail and is forwarded to my gmail a/c. This keeps a backup on the server, anything that is spam is removed from the server, as Gmail will get everything I'm not worried about false positives as my own server is the backup. (Initially Gmail was the back up, but since moving to a new computer I've just used the Gmail interface and haven't yet installed Thunderbird, and doubt now I ever will. I do miss a few features but no tool is perfect, so I just cope with the couple of limitations.)

Quite a few will be discussions on various lists, about a dozen automatic emails a day (reminders, server status things etc), other subscriptions/messages, roughly 60 spams and then finally about 20 actionable items. Using Gmail keeps all the threads on the lists nice and doesn't overwhelm as all the replies relating to that one posting are all grouped as one. It's much better for my email khama to see one message, rather than all 30 replies...

I star anything that I have to deal with. I also use labels for various projects/clients.

Anything I want to read later (but will take more than a few minutes) gets labelled and filed. Every time I visit the inbox I empty it. Often this is easy, I see a bunch of emails from a list, and if I'm not going to read them now will just select them all and hit archive. They are still marked as unread should I wish to visit them again later.

My main clients and lists are also automatically labelled.

Once I remove or skim the list emails from the inbox, this may leave me with one or two I need to think about for a second. If I can do it I will and then just archive the mail, otherwise it'll get stared and I move on with my next action.

The hole here is identifying next actions, but I handle that seperatly to email. I guess the starred emails are really mini-projects.




An Oblique Strategy:
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