Tackling the email burden

We hoped it would unchain us from our desks and allow us to be more creative and spend more leisure time with those we love. Instead it has become busy-work at best, and at worst a contributor to burnout and low productivity.

What can we do about the time we waste dealing with e-mail?

Economist Tim Hartford in a column in the FT sums up a lot of the suggestions that have been made. Merlin Mann was the first commentator to tackle the problem thoroughly, proposing a zero inbox approach, and suggesting a few innovative approaches to dealing with the problem.

Ways to combat the email deluge include unsubscribing from as many lists as possible, using automatic filtering, saving the contents of important e-mails rather than the envelope they came in, and deleting savagely.

In an “attention economy” the opportunity cost of spending two hours a day on e-mail is just too great.

French company Atos has banned internal e-mail. What a novel idea! Speak to the person in the office next door rather than e-mailing them. Go to see the person next door if you have a question. Blasting off a quick e-mail is too easy.

Then there’s the paper-trail mentality. Sending an email ensures that you always have a paper trail in case you have to defend yourself in a formal bureaucratic hearing of some sort. Do you really want to conduct yourself that way?

And communicating by email is a drug for those who cannot interact normally with other human beings. Ditch the drug and pick up the phone.

In any case, something must be done, and we can start by cutting down on using email as our first resort for communication.