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5 Ways Email Can Completely Ruin Your Life

We're hooked on email. And it's driving us batshit crazy.

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“Bursters…look irresponsible to the busy who jump on each email as soon as it arrives. Bursters know you should try instant messaging if you need a quick answer, go with a blog post if you’re announcing something, and use a wiki for archiving information useful to the entire team. Bursters know that you can use RSS readers with RSS alerts to track all sorts of useful events from system management to code check-ins to development schedule updates to mailing list messages — your email doesn’t have to serve that role. Bursters know that the less they respond by email, the more their colleagues will seek them out using other channels.”

But the dominant American managerial style is the busyness model, and it can hamper the productivity of bursters.

The problem has become so acute that some companies are hiring consultants to help them make email more efficient and effective and even declaring email-free days. Some have found that these email holidays actually increase productivity and encourage better forms of communication among workers and clients. A California software company  launched “email-free Fridays” and found that employees spent more time talking on the phone to clients. Encouraged by the friendlier attention, clients were more likely to visit the office and get to know the sales reps, who now actually had time to visit – because they weren’t constantly checking email.

3. Collaboration Nightmare

Email can be just the ticket for one-to-one communication, and even one-to-many communication. But if you’ve ever been involved in a project in which multiple contributors are firing back and forth, you know what happens. Conversation flow becomes unclear. The wrong people get left out or included. People get frazzled. They lose energy. They may even pack their toys and go home.

When I launched a Web site, things moved very quickly and my two partners and I found ourselves frantically communicating via email to keep up. One day I noticed that a new email came in just about every minute. If I answered every one of them, I would do little else all day. Stuff got lost. Tempers flared.

Then we discovered the wiki. A wiki is a Web site where pages can be edited by multiple people using a web browser. It’s a shared site that even someone with laughable technical skills such as myself can make and update. If you can learn Facebook, you can make a wiki. It gives everybody a place to go to check status updates and view information– like a collective bulletin board and file cabinet.

Once we got ourselves wiki-fied, my partners and I got more done, and we got it done without losing our minds. It was far from perfect, but it beat the hell out of email. Information on the wiki could be easily updated, and static information was easily viewable without digging frantically through old emails. The biggest hurdle to the wiki is the resistance to try new technology – and this can be powerful. A friend who runs a successful online business once joked to me, “I decide who gets to keep their job based on whether or not they will use a wiki.” He was only half-joking.

4. Fosters Ill Will

Let’s face it. Email is an unmannerly beast. We’ve all had the co-worker who sounds inordinately terse or demanding in email, and we’ve probably all done it ourselves.

I once worked with an editor – thankfully not for long – whose emails were acidic enough to peel the lashes off your eyelids. You absorbed the contents in stunned silence, knowing the written declarations of your stupidity or incompetence were recorded in cyberspace. In person, this woman came across as pleasant. But in email, she was a holy terror. Why?  Something about the impersonal nature of email brought out her inner dragon. The faceless, voiceless communication makes us forget that there is an actual human being on the other end.

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