In the 1960s, some bright sparks developed ways of passing files between different people on the same server. Email has been a pain in the neck ever since.
Technical standards for email were agreed on in the 1970s and by the 1980s, any large business had a corporate email system (good old cc:mail or Pegasus mail!)
And since the 1980s .. Well, not much has changed.
Yes, you can now email larger attachments. More software programs also integrate with email or can trigger emails via a third party connector like Zapier. Our email clients have a few new features and we can compose, send, read and delete emails on our phones.
But apart from the increased mobility of it all (now you don’t have to be sitting at your computer to see your spam), very little has changed in the way that we USE email.
It quickly became the default communication method for a generation. It’s still regarded as a great way to leave a ‘paper trail’ (minus the actual paper) proving that I asked you to do that thing 6 weeks ago whether you remember or not.
But sadly we’ve moved from the Information Age to the Information Overload Age.
Business coaches and Life coaches will encourage you to only check emails after you’ve done the ‘Top 3’ things on your To Do list, or to only check emails at certain times of the day, or even to have an ‘Email Free Friday’ (complete with out of office notification to alert anyone silly enough to message you that day).
We’ve become so used to the routine of email communications that we’re still emailing like it’s 1993.
Want to scare yourself? If you use Office 365, find the Exchange Activity report in the Admin Centre (or ask your friendly IT admin to dig it out for you). In the last 6 months, I’ve received over 26,500 emails to my business Inbox.
No wonder sometimes it feels like all we do all day is email each other.
That’s not for a lack of alternatives. Facebook group message, group Tweet, Slack, Whatsapp .. The list of other communication methods is growing and adoption of these other platforms varies from business to business and age group to age group.
Here’s the thing though: If you don’t consciously architect your communication channels, you just end up moving the problem.
Email overload becomes Slack message overload.
We think it’s less disrupting to send off a message that the recipient can read at their leisure. In reality, the recipient is at the beck and call of new email notifications.
We don’t embrace new features to impact our productivity, because old habits die hard.
Could this be covered in a quick phone call or IM?
Is it better discussed in a forum like Yammer, rather than being locked inside people’s Inboxes & not available to the next person who joins the company?
Is there a better way of keeping people in the loop, rather than adding them as an email recipient or a CC?
We’re tackling email overload at the wrong end. We’re so annoyed at managing the flood of stuff we get in, that we’re not conscious of the flood of stuff we send out. We are the problem.
The only way we’re going to break out of email jail is to start with us.
So start with a cold hard look at the kinds of information you are emailing each other within your organisation. Does everyone need to be Cced? Is there a better way of ensuring that the people who need to be kept in the loop are informed, especially if they don’t actually need to action anything? Can we step away from reaching from New Email by default and instead cover internal communications in quick, daily meetings or Skype instant messages?
Can we pull work in progress out of Inboxes and into mini project management tools, Cloud-based to do lists or electronic kanban boards?
If you really want to see change in your business, it’s time to make a conscious decision about where information in your organisation lives. Increasingly, the best place is not people’s mailfiles, but that’s what we’ve always known.
Old habits die hard.
New habits get new results.