Posts categorized “email”.

Research: The Cost of Email Interruptions

You might be interested in the results of this email research:

"By taking a “typical” employee and making some hypothetical assumptions it is possible to determine the amount of time that can be saved through implementing the guidelines mentioned above. If an employee has set up the email application to check for email every 5 minutes then it is possible, if (s)he is a heavy user of email, that there could be 96 interruptions in a normal 8-hour working day. However, if the email application was set up to check for email every 45 minutes then the amount of possible interruptions is reduced to 11 per day. For example, if it takes on average 1.5 minutes to read and recover from an email and the employee is interrupted every 5 minutes, then this would only leave the employee 3.5 minutes before the next interrupt. However, if the employee was interrupted every 45 minutes and the emails had accumulated to a total of 9, then it would take on average 6 minutes to read all 9 emails and recover from the interruption. This would then leave 39 minutes before the next interruption, allowing the employee more time to get on with “real” work."

The research was completed in 2003 – I suspect the numbers become worse with the increase in email volumes and technology demanding our attention over the last few years.  Net net, use Do Not Disturb or turn off your email notifications altogether.

Email ‘a broken business tool’

The Guardian calls email "a broken business tool" in a Sunday article.  Some facts:

"The average employee spends an estimated 90 minutes to two hours a day wading through hundreds of messages, suffering interruptions and distractions with every ping from their PC or BlackBerry. Worldwide email traffic has now hit 196 billion messages a day, according to the research firm the Radicati Group, and is predicted to reach 374 billion per day by 2011."

Tom Jackson, a senior lecturer in the information science department at Loughborough University, has an interesting solution to the problem:

"Jackson, who has provided email training to clients including the Danwood Group and Leicestershire police, has also designed a program which can name and shame bad emailers within an organisation. ‘It will go through all the emails you’ve sent and give you a score. It looks at how many people you sent it to, did you "reply to all", how big your subject line is, whether the message is well written. It gives a ranking of good and bad emailers, which can be a shock and make people reconsider what they’re doing."

Though I am personally pro-training and anti-shaming when it comes to email management, we have heard from many who are interested in finding technical solutions to help employees understand the implications of their personal email management style.  Maybe better knowledge of the potential impact your message will have on others is part of the puzzle?

Thanks to customer Patrick who forwarded both this and last week’s BBC article!

BBC News: Email is ruining my life!

A quick Friday note – the BBC has published an article on email that’s part history, part problem, and part solution.  Here’s my favorite stat from the post:

"On average, we spend 52 hours a year just dealing with our junk mail."

They also mention the mixed results Deloitte saw from Free Email Day and give five tips for taking control of the Inbox (Filter spam, target email, write carefully, reduce interruptions, get training).

The Internet’s Killer App

Email is the Internet’s killer app, so it’s no surprise to me that, when given the opportunity, the web luminaries at the Future of Web Apps conference chose to design an app to help them with email.  In a panel that was given 40 minutes to design a new web app from the ground up, the group spent the most time working on an app to help manage email.  From moderator Erick Schonfeld’s TechCrunch post:

"But the app we ended up spending the most time brainstorming was one that Digg’s Kevin Rose dreamed up to help him manage his e-mail. He can’t keep up with it all, and wanted to come up with a way to stop offending people who he never gets back to by sharing some of his e-mail data with them. The concept was a site that keeps stats on your e-mail usage that your friends can check to see how far behind you are in responding to e-mails in general. (”It’s not you, it’s me”)."

Of course, this doesn’t really help.  Regardless of what system you have in place, you respond to the messages and people that are most important to you.  Letting someone know that you’re a really busy guy and that they’re not important enough to merit a personal response isn’t going to make them feel better. The key is to put in place technology and methodology to increase your efficiency and get more done so no important messages fall through the cracks.  See Deva’s Inbox Thesis for more on this subject.

CNET’s Caroline McCarthy took the opportunity to sound the email death knellAs I have said before, nothing could be further from the truth.  Email is going to have a place in the business world for a long long time and, when it goes toe to toe vs. today’s newer collaboration tools in an enterprise setting, you’ll find that email’s so-called replacements sorely lackingThe comments on the CNET article seem to agree.

Clive Thompson’s Take on Email Apnea

A couple of weeks ago I referenced Linda Stone’s post on Email Apnea, “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.”  Late last week, Clive Thompson pondered why the condition occurs:

“It’s so metaphorically rich I can barely begin to tease out the implications. Do we feel somehow threatened while doing email — hence our unconscious trip into fight-or-flight mode? Or do we feel as though we’re literally diving into some socially or technologically unbreathable environment, as if jumping underwater? Or is it because we’re preparing to vocalize — i.e. that email triggers the mental rhythms of conversation and self-presentation, so we’re taking a deep breath so we can “talk” uninterrupted for 20 seconds or so? By which I mean, is this a symptom of some form of performance anxiety?”

I found the post most interesting because he also writes about the way guitar players breathe when playing, which, like email apnea, I hadn’t noticed until it was brought to my attention.

On a side note, I’ve been a subscriber to Clive’s blog, Collision Detection, since his October 2005 New York Times Magazine article, Meet the Life HackersDespite his obsession with giant squid (or maybe because of), he’s always writing about some genuinely interesting stuff, at least for geek musicians like me.  Check it out.

Email Apnea

Robert Scoble pointed to this interesting post by Linda Stone on Email Apnea – “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.”  Apparently, for a variety of reasons, it’s pretty common for us to hold our breath while working in email, and this can have a far-reaching impact on our stress levels, health, etc..  Honestly, I was a little skeptical, but now that I’m aware of it, I have found that I’m not breathing regularly when composing messages, reading through my Inbox, etc..  I see some breathing exercises in my future…

Read the article for more detail and see Robert’s comments here.

Can’t Wait to Put Things Off?

Craig Kennedy forwarded this interesting article from the Globe and Mail.  Researchers at Northwestern University have found a link between two seemingly disparate personality traits – procrastination and impatience:

"In sum, said the study, highly impatient individuals are overly keen to engage in activities where they get what they want right away and pay the costs later, but they procrastinate when they have to put in the effort up front in order to get benefits down the road."

Dr. Ernesto Reuben, one of the co-authors of the study, suggests that the procrastinators could benefit from technology designed to help keep them focused:

‘This could be addressed by giving them the right tools, such as e-mail programs that emphasize "important" messages "because a procrastinator will easily get distracted and start reading non-important e-mails.’

happy_emoticonDr. Reuben, if you are out there, please contact me.  I’d like to introduce you to ClearContext Information Management System for Microsoft Outlook

Thanks for the pointer, Craig!

Pilers vs Filers

Jason Clarke at downloadsquad has posted his take on why Inbox pilers are rude:

Right now, many of you with overflowing inboxes are probably screaming at your screen. How can we be so bold as to assume that we know if you’re on top of your email or not based on this simple criteria? … So why bother filing things at all?

Okay, we hear you, and understand your position. But there’s really no gentle way to say this, so we’re just going to come out and say it.

You’re wrong.

He goes on to make a well thought out argument for filing away messages as you act on them and using technology to help automate the process.  If you’re still a piler, it’s worth a read to see if Jason can convince you to start filing.

This isn’t a new debate.  See the comments on Jason’s 2005 post If Your Inbox Has More Than a Screenful of Messages In It, You’re Rude for a lively discussion on the subject.

Delay Delivery of All Messages in Outlook

Last week Eli Lilly lawyers mistakenly sent confidential information on a $1 Billion negotiation to a New York Times reporter with the same surname as one of their lawyers.  (Story here).  With tools like AutoComplete, it’s fairly easy to make a similar mistake with serious repercussions.

How many times have you sent an email, only to realize just as it disappeared that you sent it to the wrong person, misspelled something in the body, forgot to include an attachment or something else of that ilk?  I find that when I catch these errors, it’s always within moments of sending.

If you suffer from this problem, configure Outlook to delay sending of all messages by five minutes or more.  From the Microsoft Office site:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts, and then click New Rule.
  2. Select Start from a blank rule.
  3. In the Step 1: Select when messages should be checked box, click Check messages after sending, and then click Next.
  4. In the Step 1: Select condition(s) list, select any options you want, and then click Next.

    If you do not select any check boxes, a confirmation dialog box appears. Clicking Yes applies this rule to all messages you send.

  5. In the Step 1: Select action(s) list, select defer delivery by a number of minutes. Delivery can be delayed up to two hours.
  6. In the Step 2: Edit the rule description (click on an underlined value) box, click the underlined phrase a number of and enter the number of minutes you want messages held before sending.
  7. Click OK, and then click Next.
  8. Select any exceptions, and then click Next.
  9. In the Step 1: Specify a name for this rule box, type a name for the rule.
  10. Click Finish.

Messages will be held in the Outlook Outbox for the time you specify.

Truth be told, if one of my team members in a prior life had used this rule it would have saved us a multi-million dollar contract and a whole lot of client grief.  But that’s another story…

Thanks to Ina Fried at CNET for a pointer to this story.

Top 5 Email Policy Considerations

To protect from potential lawsuits, businesses are finding it increasingly important to outline a comprehensive email corporate policy governing fair use of the company’s email system. In the past few years there have been several high profile legal cases demonstrating the impact of misuse of corporate email. When crafting an email policy for any company, be sure to address the areas below. 

1. Content
Outline acceptable email content in the workplace. Specifically, creation or distribution of offensive material (i.e. due to gender bias, racial bias, sexual content, etc.) should be prohibited. 

2. Confidentiality & Privacy
Specifically define corporate information that is acceptable for distribution via email within and outside the company. The policy should also outline privacy expectations for email passed through and stored on company mail servers. In particular, if corporate email is subjected to monitoring, this should be made clear. 

3. Retention
Email is a permanent record of business conversations. Define retention requirements and storage methods for corporate messages. In a highly publicized case, one company was required to search for email on 20,000 backup tapes at a cost of $1,000/tape. Finance, Healthcare, and other regulated industries have very well defined information retention requirements. Everyone else should have specific email deletion requirements. 

4. Personal Use
Several studies have shown that employees spend a significant amount of time using corporate email for personal reasons. Clearly define acceptable personal use of the company’s email system. 

5. Abuse
Outline the impact of ignoring the corporate email policy. Not only describe the effect email misuse could have on the corporation; also define the action that will be taken against employees who violate the policy. 

An additional note: Corporate policy is worthless if it is not communicated and enforced. Put procedures in place that document an employee’s understanding of the policy. Provide regular training to remind employees of proper use. Finally, ensure that disciplinary action is taken swiftly if an employee is abusing company email privilege. 

Consult with a lawyer versed in electronic communication before finalizing any policy.



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