Posts categorized “infomania”.

Discussions on the Future of Email

There have been some really interesting discussions of late on the failures of current email systems.  Michael Arrington at TechCrunch writes 2,433 Unread Emails Is An Opportunity For An Entrepreneur:

"I routinely declare email bankruptcy and simply delete my entire inbox. But even so, I currently have 2,433 unread emails in my inbox. Plus another 721 in my Facebook inbox. and about thirty skype message windows open with unanswered messages. It goes without saying, of course, that my cell phone voicemail box is also full (I like the fact that new messages can’t be left there, so I have little incentive to clear it out).

How do I deal with email now? I scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages. People I know who don’t waste my time, or who I have a genuine friendship with. Or descriptive subject lines that help me understand that I should allot a minute or more of my life to opening it and reading it."

To which our CEO Deva responds Hi Techcrunch, I can solve your email problems:

"’I scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages.’ – NO, NO, NO!  Nobody with any volume can do that and stay on top of email.  By analyzing your email history and all sorts of contextual clues about incoming email, this is something that can be done automatically Prioritized_inbox
– and we do.

Jeremiah Owyang rants in Email Consumes Us:

"Ironically, most of my social media peers and I still use email as one of the main ways to communicate back and forth to each other But even more, there are more inboxes to check, twitter, facebook, linkedin, I’m getting business messages from these tools and I’m sure you are too."

Deva’s response:

"As I’ve been writing about for a while, the very nature of email itself is changing.  Two major things have changed about email in the past few years.  The volume (duh, more!) and the nature (it’s no longer just individual messages, it’s projects and tasks and collaboration).

Yet email clients are still fundamentally designed to process messages one by one and treat them as independent units of data.  That approach just doesn’t scale and doesn’t reflect the type of connected and context-rich information contained within email."

If this sort of thing interests you, I encourage you to read the posts in full, including the 100’s of comments on the TechCrunch post.  Commenter’s advice to Arrington falls into three broad areas: get an email processing methodology, use technology for better filtering and management, or hire an assistant (if you don’t have the luxury, see my previous two links).

I’m pleased to see a problem that we have been addressing for years get some attention.  As Deva mentions in his posts above, our next release will get us even closer to our vision for email automation – prioritization of incoming email, categorization of information, aggregation of related information, and context-specific actions for different types of information.

Root Causes of Email Overload

I’m a little late to the game on this, but last week Lifehacker pointed to an interesting post by Dan Markovitz on the root causes of email overload:

"For example, I’ve spilled a lot of electronic ink (fortunately, electrons are cheap) telling you how to manage email. But I’m now wondering whether my advice has merely been addressing the symptoms, and not the actual problem. Which is to say, I’m giving advice on how to handle email once it’s hit your inbox. But perhaps I should be focusing more on the root cause of all those emails."

Dan makes a good case for running more analysis on the content of email to see if you can help alleviate the problem before it gets to you. 

Here’s my advice to Dan and anyone else who is looking to keep their Inbox leaner:

Read the comments on the LifeHacker post for more suggestions on tackling the problem.

Email Overload: Attention Deficit Trait

Something for you to think about over the weekend.  David Sengupta at Ferris Research had this to say about the problems of Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)  – symptoms of ADD brought on by an "interrupt-driven lifestyle":

"Consider some hypothetical calculations (plug in whatever numbers make sense in your company):

  • 1/2 hour per day wasted productivity per employee 
  • Assume an 8-hour working day — that’s 1/16 lost productivity 
  • So for every $100,000 individual on email, you’ve lost $6,250 per year

Whatever way you slice the numbers, this is a big cost."

I think that most of his assumptions are conservative, but you get the idea.  Check out our savings calculator to run some numbers for your team or company.

BTW – I started to take the ADD self assessment test that he links to, but I got distracted…

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.

Taking a Virtual Break

Over the weekend, TechMeme pointed me to an interesting piece in the New York Times.  In a lot of ways, I have the same problem as Mark Bittman; namely:

"…I had developed the habit of leaving a laptop next to my bed so I could check my e-mail, last thing and first thing. I had learned how to turn my P.D.A. into a modem, the better to access the Web from my laptop when on a train. Of course I also used that P.D.A. in conventional ways, attending to it when it buzzed me.

In short, my name is Mark, and I’m a techno-addict."

Mark’s solution was to enforce a technology free day (or two) for the last few months.  And while he eventually found the benefits to be extremely rewarding, it wasn’t easy:

"On my first weekend last fall, I eagerly shut it all down on Friday night, then went to bed to read. (I chose Saturday because my rules include no television, and I had to watch the Giants on Sunday). I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop. That forbidden, I reached for the phone. No, not that either. Send a text message? No. I quickly realized that I was feeling the same way I do when the electricity goes out and, finding one appliance nonfunctional, I go immediately to the next. I was jumpy, twitchy, uneven."

That, IMO, is exactly why taking a break or going through some sort of detox can be a good idea. 

Merlin Mann at 43 Folders nails it though, when he says the problem is not the technology but the way we use it:

"Let’s be brutally honest, here — I can “work” at my computer for 10 hours and do nothing but dick around with Wikipedia and YouTube. Heck, even if I do “work stuff” like email and “research,” I can easily trail off in a hundred directions that have nothing to do with my initial task. Is that the fault of the computer and the internet? Maybe, kinda. But, no more so than I can reasonably blame this crappy hammer for that awkward birdhouse I built. Stupid hammer."

Both articles are really interesting reads, if only to get you thinking about how and why you use technology.

Carbon Copy Bloat

The Wall Street Journal calls it Colleague Spam. I call it Carbon Copy Bloat.  Whatever you call it, it is one of the biggest contributors to email overload.  Too many people feel the need to hit Reply to All when responding to an email; cluttering the recipient’s Inbox with messages that they don’t want or don’t need and taking time and focus away from legitimate work.

Intel has a solution for it.  From Nathan Zeldes’ IT@Intel blog post on a client side email coach:

‘…[the Intel client side email coach] will also coerce, as in “If you really mean to reply to all these people, please check the boxes next to each name you truly need”.’

IMS provides a couple of tools to help you combat this problem:

  1. Use Unsubscribe to keep useless email threads out of the Inbox.  Joke threads, happy hour discussions, conversations outside your area of interest/influence are all ideal candidates for Unsubscribe.
  2. Adjust ClearContext’s scoring parameters to give greater weight to messages sent directly to you and only you.  Under ClearContext > Options > Scoring Options 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.

But most of all, make sure that you aren’t the problem.  Always ask yourself if everyone in your recipient list really needs to see the email you are sending before you send that message to more than one person.

Bad Email Management Makes You Look Stupid

I have spent a great deal of space on this blog arguing that if you aren’t managing your email effectively, you aren’t being fair to yourself, your co-workers, or your customers.  Here’s an example.

Some time ago I was asking an associate for some needed information.  In three separate emails I asked for the same documentation.  In all three responses the associate seemed to either ignore and/or simply not understand what I was asking for.  I went back through our correspondence trying to see if I was being too vague or whether I needed to simplify my request in a way that the recipient might understand.

That’s when it dawned on me that the problem wasn’t comprehension; my associate simply wasn’t reading anything beyond the first sentence or two in all of my emails.  I assume he was just too overwhelmed to read the whole request.

My point – think about the impression you give to your co-workers, business partners and customers when you aren’t managing your email properly.  Don’t let bad email management make you look stupid.

Secondary point – this would have been a lot less painful for the both of us if I’d just picked up the phone.  Sometimes email isn’t the best medium for the task at hand.