Are you an emailer? 4 wrong ways of defining the email overload problem.

Are you an emailer? 4 wrong ways of defining the email overload problem.

Posted on July 30, 2011

When people at parties ask me what I do, I think I am just going to start saying that I’m an “emailer.”


The above comment was linked in a tweet that I got recently. The writer who tweeted the  blog post is trying out an experiment of not replying to email.

A knowledge worker on an average gets 150 or more work related emails per day. If you are one of them then you may love this idea of not replying to email at all. Some of you may already be doing that without informing the whole world like the blogger did. However, the purpose of this blog post is not to encourage you to stop reading or responding to your email but to make email a useful tool for communication. So, my advice is, “Do not give up. There is still hope to make email work for you”.

The problem definition

“If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions”- Albert Einstein

1. Is the number of emails the real problem?

Yes and no. Yes, because the number of emails has increased in recent years. No, because people who get 1000 emails per day like Ramit Sethi of the have figured out a way to read and respond to all the email they get. Also, due to the amount of content that is now being generated, email is going to increase in coming years. That’s why there is no reason to keep solving the same problem again and again.

2. Is email not the right communication tool?

Email still is one of the best communication tools. Remember the movie, “You got mail”. Until another movie is made like “You got an Instant Message”, or “You got a tweet”, I will not relegate email to an insignificant form of communication. All kidding aside, email is just a vehicle of communication. Do you blame the cars for the accidents or the car drivers? Sometimes, the cars could be the problem and most of the times the faulty cars/parts are recalled. So, it is safe to assume to in most cases the drivers are to be blamed for the accidents.

3. Are the folks who don’t know how to use email a problem?

It is true that some folks do use “Reply All” very frequently. It is true that some folks still send jokes that you have seen a million of times. It is true that “CC” is liberally used by some folks. Can this problem go away if you train these folks? Yes and No. Yes, because the folks who get trained will stop. No, because there will always be new folks/clients who will be entering the workplace. So, this is a recurring problem.

4. Are emails used to write essays and stories?

It is true that some people do not get to the point right away and so the recipient of the email does not know what to do with the email. Is there an action item in the email? Is there a follow up in the email? Is this email information only? Is this email a project that will take you hours and days to finish? There are simple and easy ways to address this and again this falls under a training category.

Simple rules like write in bullet points. Make the subject line very clear. Keep to a maximum of 3 to 5 lines. Write in small sentences. Use simple language. All these rules will help and you need to keep training folks.

None of these 4 issues is the real problem. The real problem is very obvious and is staring at you.

My next blog post will talk about the real problem and how to solve it. Till then, let me know if there are any other ways of blaming email

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