Government // Mobile & Wireless
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12/11/2012
04:17 PM
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All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email

When it comes to managing the email onslaught, we have met the enemy, and he is us. Needed now: Willpower.

Windows: Goofs And Gaffes
Windows: Goofs And Gaffes
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If you told your colleagues that, as a holiday gift, you could guarantee them 30% less email, would they welcome the extra time back in their professional and personal lives? Of course they would. But the solution comes with the same requirement for avoiding that 15-pound holiday weight gain: willpower.

Spam is no longer the enemy; we've all but licked that one. When it comes to managing the email onslaught, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Let's consider the simple example of communications around the potluck holiday party for an office staff of 20, where someone coordinates who is bringing what. In the old days, the party organizer would post a signup sheet in a break area. Today, the organizer shoots out an email to all 20 people, and then everyone replies to all. The one communication in the break room has now turned into 20-plus communications.

Even if folks are disciplined enough to not reply to all, there still will be, "Awesome, thanks for doing that!" types of emails, or "Please, Wanda, bring your wonderful fruit salad!" Some of these emails, inevitably, will be directed to the whole list. This case on a larger scale creates a funnel effect. The more indirect reports you have, especially in today's open, collaborative workplaces where there isn't as much chain of command as there used to be, the more "friendly fire" email you'll get. Our most highly compensated employees are those whose time we waste the most.

[ Read How To Keep Email From Driving You Crazy . ]

IT professionals, once serial under-communicators, might be overcompensating. Does everyone in the organization really need to know about the change that's going to affect only one floor or one system? And miming Twitter's "your Tweet was retweeted!" email notification, some enterprise apps now let you know, in email, about something that might or might not require your attention. If you have a social platform such as Jive, prepare for your email volume to double as every frivolous comment on the platform gets spoon fed to you in email alerts.

You can't blame the enterprise app people. IT tries to get people to regularly check their invoice approvals. They don't, but they do check email. So, hello email!

There's also a sense among end users that if they poke a document or a status update into a non-email system -- whether it's a project management system or a contract management system -- it's not good enough. They want everyone to know what their edits to the contract were. So they push them to email.

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Three main things are going on here. One, people are generating ever-more noise emails. Two, even the apps that we thought loved us are generating time-wasting emails. Three, we don't have the intestinal fortitude or executive mandate to wean ourselves off email.

The solutions all boil down to willpower.

First, and perhaps hardest, we must stop writing so many darned emails and stop ccing people who don't need to be copied. For many things, a two-minute phone conversation or personal chat will save five or more email exchanges. I'm not saying don't write emails or don't cc people, but as the yoga people would say, at least be mindful and purposeful about it.

Second, we must help fellow employees find comfort in using all of those other tools that we've provided. For instance, people need to know that project conversations should be had in the project management system, not in email. This reconditioning requires both training and an executive mandate.

Third, we must take the time to learn and use the management tools built into our email clients. For example, I have a rule in my email software that redirects any "notification" type of email to a separate folder. I also have rules that separate my email into classifications of "those who report to me," "those who I report to," and everyone else. IT organizations should consider reaching out to executives and their assistants with pointers or training.

Willpower doesn't yield returns in the short run. When we avoid eating just one more Christmas cookie, and then another one, the pounds don't evaporate. But the choices we make on a continual and disciplined basis have big aggregate consequences in the long run.

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John Foley
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John Foley,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/12/2012 | 6:41:55 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
Jonathan Feldman's words ring true, but I'm afraid they will still ring true 10 years from now. More than 10 years ago, I wrote a cover story for InformationWeek titled "Infoglut." One of the chief culprits of information overload at the time was email, and it's only gotten worse. Last time I calculated, I was getting 400 to 500 emails a day (though that included the spam filter, which I sometimes check). There have been ideas, and technologies, to help, but the email keeps on coming. And now that everyone has a smartphone, it's 24x7, and follows you wherever you go. John Foley, InformationWeek
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/12/2012 | 9:16:00 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
Wikis were supposed to help solve the email problem, so too, IM. But like everyone else here, my email volume keeps going up, not down. Maybe it is human nature to create information in any space we have. The most effective tool I have used to reduce email volume is a group chat room for a small team. However, you can get great cultural pushback on that.Anyone have examples of other strategies/tools that have worked?
Laurianne McLaughlin
InformationWeek
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/14/2012 | 10:08:19 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
Tools like wikis, social media, and online forums is that we also get email alerts whenever something is posted in one of these places (unless we disable it)! Disabling alerts risks the chance that we might not remember to check the communication within these online groups because we are busy checking all of the other email we receive. I fear the cycle is never-ending.
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/12/2012 | 10:20:50 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
I have more email than ever!!! The first IT story I wrote (cough) years ago was a buyer's guide on PC-based email. The gist was that businesses were discovering the value of using such a communications medium, and here were three or four platforms you should consider. Ah, so young, so email-innnocent. A year or two ago I could have written the same story but replaced "email" with "business social networking tools." Those tools are supposed to take the place of so much email, but, as noted here, that's not really happening. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston last year, Lowe's CIO Andrew Carusone talked about the need for companies to think about what they should "unadopt" in order to truly make effective use of social technology (http://www.informationweek.com.... Email was one of the things he mentioned. I think he's right--that until we stop using those systems in parallel and redundantly, we'll never truly leverage social's potential.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
12/13/2012 | 7:55:37 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
As an aside for Mr. Carusone, I ordered from Lowe's website and received 3 different delivery date estimates, never received notification that the item was delivered to the store nor was an update visible on the website, and after calling the central customer service number was told they could not track it to call the destination branch store for tracking. Just an opinion, but Lowe's and Mr. Carusone have more pressing issues than social technology to address (supply chain managment comes to mind). Said another way, until they address and stabilize the supporting supply chain system, it doesn't matter the platform they use to distribute the information if it's errant.
PeterG2012
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PeterG2012,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/13/2012 | 11:06:29 AM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
I think Jonathan's second point is most important. Social platforms have the potential to reduce email, but we already see bad behavior there too. Comments in the discussion thread that add no meaningful content are the 2012 versions of the useless email replies we've all come to know (and dislike). So, inasmuch as possible, we need to help people understand how to make effective use of these technologies...and then tell them to stop sending us email. :)
David Berlind
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David Berlind,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/13/2012 | 3:21:37 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
I have to agree with Peter here, to some extent. Social platforms have in them the promise of reducing email overload... but we no one has quite cracked the code on how to do that yet. For example, I follow a lot of wiki groups on our internal wiki. My choices are to enable those groups to update me via email when there's new activity, or not. If I check the email option, I end up with a flood of new email. If leave the email option off, I have to deliberately go visit that group to see what changes might have happened. Neither is ideal. We have an internal twitter like feed. I could keep that up and running on the side of my screen (and all the wiki updates could show up there too). But it's very much like twitter. I only see what's "above the fold." Everything that has scrolled out has no chance of me seeing it. These issues only scratch the surface. There are others. Like I said, I don't think anyone has cracked the code yet on how to make this manageable. I will say though that one feature that would be amazing to have (from our wiki) is an "unsubscribe from thread" button. This button would be in the email and when I click it, it would send a signal back to the wiki to shut off email updates for that thread only. This would come in really handy for those verbose threads that overload my email, but that don't require my attention.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
12/13/2012 | 7:49:34 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
I've seen only an increase from social network association. Unsolicited "Like Me" or "Friend Me" requests (I'm talking the 25 year old female presumably from .RU) to status updates inflate the inbox. My SPAM box, which I check for titles because sometimes filters catch legitimate email, triples around this period of the year.
Mike_Acker
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Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/13/2012 | 11:33:19 AM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
Filters
use Thunderbird. T/bird makes it easy to set up filters to sort out your email mark it read and file it. you just sift it by date for what you need . You can set retention policy. I only keep junk mail 2 days
yeomantechnologies
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yeomantechnologies,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/14/2012 | 1:14:47 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
Poor email. Everyone complains, but how soon we forget life before it. It is the only almost 100% compatible, open source, standard in the last 25 years. It is more productive then phone, letters, faxes, and face to face and is one of the primary drivers of the global productivity growth that started in the late 90s. There is no 'replacement' for it -- only better ways to integrate with it. Social networking (internal or external) are trying to break away versus providing a more seemless integration.

My Christmas wish? More discussion about engineering the Universal Inbox.

http://www.informationweek.com...
lgarey@techweb.com
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lgarey@techweb.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/17/2012 | 5:31:36 PM
re: All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email
Mike is right -- until social tools federate, forget weaning off of email.

Lorna Garey, InformationWeek Reports
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