Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why email is not stealing time from real work.....

Lately there have been a lot of critique against email and also a lot of ideas on how to improve email. For instance, the idea from the company Shortmail.com about a new form of really short emails. And the idea of an "email charter" by the famous internet thinker Chris Anderson, or "Work smart: conquering your email inbox" by Gina Trapani at Fastcompany.

The assumption, or fact, behind that all these attempts is that the number of emails are increasing and take up way too much of our working time. Email is seen as a "time-suck". The conclusion for most is that we need to reduce the number of emails, or make them shorter, or easier to work with, so we do not have to spend so much time with our emails.

Even though all this sounds rational and sound, I am not sure that the basic premise is correct. I agree that the number of emails have been increasing, but I am also quite sure that reading and answering emails today is not necessary time wasted or time taken away from "real" work. To "work" with your emails is in most cases real work, it is not something else than work. When I work with my inbox, I do real work. A very small number of the emails I "work" with are not important at all (apart form some occasional spam) or are not about something that is a genuine part of my work.

So, an increasing number of emails is not necessary the same as work distraction.

There are of course some consequences of reducing the use of email. First of all, we could have to go back to a system where meetings and close geographical location is a requirement for "work". But that will not be accepted of course. So many things of  what I do when I am "working" is considered to be normal and required for someone in my position, and is not possible to do without email.

We can of course use other technologies for communication, such as social media and other commonly used technologies. However, many of these new technologies are not specifically designed for asynchronous communication that leave a clear trail and a creates a record and is not very useable for ongoing professional communication, which probably is why email completely dominates among professionals. Email offers a functionality that is hard to replace.

Anyway, enough of this. I truly find email to be an extraordinary tool for "work" (and I am consciously using the word "work" here instead of "communication"). Of course, this does not mean that email can not be improved, for instance, the world would be better if we all followed the proposed rules in the "email charter" but that is another issue.

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