Posts from January 2005.

“Email is the killer app; it’s killing me.”

In early 2003, we performed an informal study of email users to assess how many people were experiencing "email overload" and what efforts they were making to mitigate the problem.

For our study, we conducted interviews with high volume users from various job functions to gain insight into their use of the “killer app.”  92% of our group were Microsoft Outlook users.  Of those, 61% ran Office 2000 and 38% used Office XP.  (Outlook 2003 had not been released yet). About 47% reported utilizing corporate Microsoft Exchange servers for their mail service, 39% utilized POP3, and the rest accessed mail via IMAP.  Most of those interviewed are employed in the high tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area and should be considered email “power users.”

It was clear from our survey that respondents were using tools available to them to get a handle on email, but few were achieving the results that they desired.  55% of our respondents reported using an anti-spam product to filter unsolicited email and 58% utilized some form of rules based processing to filter the inbox.  Given that the survey was conducted among technology professionals; we expect that these numbers are higher than in the general business populace.  However, despite our tech savvy user’s reliance on these advanced email tools, 66% of respondents indicated that they have problems addressing email.  One survey respondent put it best; “Email is the killer app; it’s killing me."

We also asked our test group what they needed to streamline email use.  Most responses centered on the presentation and filing of email messages.   Here are some quotes:

  • “I like to see emails by date, but also want to see connectedness (threads) through the email simultaneously.”
  • “Biggest issue – I want almost everything I receive, but need to prioritize for reading and action; sort and file in a simple and powerful manner.”
  • “I have 20-30 active threads at a time and getting those auto-filed would be a big help.”
  • “I use the flag feature… but it does not give me much in the way of prioritizing.”

The information from this survey played a large part in our design of ClearContext Inbox Manager for Microsoft Outlook.   Watch this blog in the upcoming weeks for additional detail on the how and why behind the product.

We’re currently preparing to do another survey to see how users are dealing with their email today – how much they receive, how much time they spend on it, what tools/processes they use, etc.  If any of you have questions you think should be included, please let us know.

Who Isn’t Overwhelmed by Email?

This is the third blogger this week that has posted on the problems he has managing his email volume.  Who isn’t having trouble managing their email???

Future Feature: Inbox Manager “Slave Mode”

Omar Shahine posted a detailed review of ClearContext Inbox Manager on his blog last night.  In it, he makes a couple of feature suggestions, including the implementation of functionality to support accessing a single mailbox from multiple machines. 

"ClearContext doesn’t work to well if you have two versions of Outlook
2003 Running simultaneously in cached mode. For most Microsoft
employees this can be a problem. The solution though is to run
ClearContext on one machine. You still get the views on the other
machine, so you don’t lose the benefit."

In our forum, we have posted our proposed plan for "Slave Mode" functionality and more details on the workaround that Omar suggests for the current version of the add-in (v1.0.2b).  Short of our planned Exchange Server based version of the product, we feel "Slave Mode" will fully address this issue.  We welcome your thoughts on our proposal in our forums. 

Watch this blog in the coming weeks for future announcements regarding our product roadmap; including a timeframe for implementation of this feature.

High Tech Email Culture

John Porcaro has posted his thoughts on the Microsoft Email Culture, which translate well to most high tech companies.  Included in the post are some great tips on dealing with too much email.  These are well thought out and fairly complementary to our own Top Five Ways to Manage Email Effectively.  Readers should also check out Top Five Ways to Reduce Email Traffic for suggestions on how to stop the problem at the source.

Email Compliance

In Top Five Email Policy Considerations we mentioned that email retention is becoming a serious issue for regulated industries.  As this CIO Magazine article points out, corporate email volume is expected to grow by 25 – 30 % annually through 2009, creating a massive problem for corporations who must be able to manage and search user email:

"Consider that over the next seven years, a company with 20,000 employees will have to save approximately 4.5 billion e-mails, and it must be able to search through them all to find messages relevant to a request for information in a matter of days or hours."

This is clearly going to be a huge challenge for IT departments worldwide.

Combat Carbon Copy Bloat

What’s the second biggest contributor to email volume behind spam?  Carbon Copy Bloat.  The concept of copying everyone who might be remotely interested in the contents of a message has taken hold in the business world in a big way.  This can be a particularly huge problem for a manager who is CC:d on every communication between team members.

If you suffer from this problem, ClearContext can be customized to minimize the impact of copied messages.  Under Tools > Options > ClearContext > Scoring Options are four sliders that control the weighting of individual messages.  Adjust the "Message Directness" slider to the left to place less importance on messages where you are CC:’d or BCC:’d.   These messages will appear lower in your  prioritized inbox.  To counter this effect, adjust the "Thread Participation" slider to the right to ensure that conversations you are actively involved in (i.e. you responded to a message you were previously CC:d on) will be scored higher than those you are simply copied on.

Gates Quote on Email Productivity

Here’s a quote from Bill Gates regarding email and office productivity:

"We, with our Office franchise, are committed to making workers far, far more productive than they are today. And believe me, we’re not running out of ideas. The phone is inefficient today with phone tag and busy signals. E-mail is inefficient today with seeing stuff that’s less relevant and how you organize it–bringing in the blog-type capabilities is very important there."

Taken from this CNET interview.  Obviously we think he’s right.  It’s interesting that he sees blog integration as a key part of office productivity enhancement. Tips, Tricks & Secrets

Heinz Tschabitscher at has pulled together am excellent site full of information about everything email, including a number of reviews and usage tips for various Outlook add-ins.  Recently he posted a comprehesive review of ClearContext Inbox Manager and several excellent tips for daily usage

Top Five 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. Recently 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.

Holiday Email Avalanche

The New York Times published an interesting article (requires free registration) on the avalanche of email workers must get through as they return from vacation.  We’re biased, but we think that ClearContext Inbox Manager is an excellent tool for alleviating this problem.

A number of ClearContext users use the product to perform "triage" on their inbox when it gets too big to manage. Here are the three most popular ClearContext features people take advantage of to rapidly clear out messages:

  1. Inbox Manager AutoAssign rules file incoming newsletters, mailing lists, etc. into separate folders for future viewing. Create these rules and use the "Apply rule to existing Inbox messages now" checkbox to file messages that you have already received.
  2. ClearContext groups all emails in a conversation together in the inbox. This lets you quickly look at the most recent message in the thread and file/delete the entire set of messages.
  3. ClearContext’s core message prioritization functionality automatically identifies your most important email and places it right at the top of the inbox. This lets you quickly deal with all of your personal and important correspondence and then rapidly file all the remaining stuff like bulk email that has been moved to the bottom of your inbox.

Ed Bott went through a similar process when he first installed our software.  Read his post on how he used ClearContext to clear out his 4500 message inbox in just one day.