Email Bankruptcy - How are you dealing with communication overload?

It's Time for a Vendetta Against Email - Alexandra Samuel

Yes, we get too much email. Given the sort of work we do, we're at the heart of creating a good bit of it with our clients, too. But this week, Alexandra Samuel lends her voice to the hue and cry for a change in perspective when it comes to the way we deal with the daily ding of our email notifications.

But with email volume rising to meet, and then exceed capacity (it's a good rule of life: volume always rises to exceed capacity), it's time for us to revisit the social convention that all answerable email deserves an answer.

Our take on email to date has been to find better ways to filter and process, to ensure that actions that stem from email get into the right systems. Turns out, there's another trend afoot: people are mad at their mail.

Samuel's method, to "put the cost of communication back on the sender," is a compelling reminder for all of us. In her case, if the sender doesn't receive a response to a message he or she felt was response-worthy, the sender would carry the responsibility to resend the message via a higher value channel -- letter? phone? tweet? -- reading Samuel, you might get the impression that anything would be a higher value communication channel than email.

We're not so bearish on email, but this serves as a good reminder for those of us who work with teams, and generally exist to help teams make processes work better (including communications processes).

We take a more McLuhan approach (remember "the medium is the message?") as we deal with communication. Our rule of thumb: as you think of the message you want to send, consider carefully the implications of the channel you choose to send it. Need a quick answer to a yes/no question? How about an SMS text message? Need to share a spreadsheet or PDF attachment? Perhaps email is still the workhorse for you. Need to get the recipient to think deeply about an important issue? No matter what the kids say, there is still to substitute for picking up the phone, or getting face-to-face to address important challenges.

When you model the sorts of behaviors you prefer in dealing with how you communicate with your teams, you'll be surprised at how quickly they reciprocate, and drive the value of email back up in the process.