Ray Williams, columnist for Psychology Today and author of “Breaking Bad Habits,” suggest that you break your email habits and go #noemail. In “Is It Time to Ban Emails Because They Reduce Productivity?” Williams answers his title question YES as he rehearses, with citations, much of the most recent thinking including those who say you just can’t about email.
One thing is certain, the volume of emails, and reliance on them as the preferred form of communication in organizations is becoming more acute and dysfunctional, and information overload is now the number one problem in organizations.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In 1993, Nathaniel Borenstein sent the first MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) encoded attachment. It wasn’t the picture that he had invented MIME to deliver — that would come later much later 19 years later (according to an interview with the Guardian) — it was a photograph and a recording of Borenstein’s barbershop quartet the Telephone Cords singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
Today people waste tons of bandwidth sending, as Borenstein did, 100s of such images at a time to their networks for friends. Each message going into a silo where it is quickly forgotten and not communally shared. Comments about the images, sound or other attached media are either lost or over shared. Receivers are at once delighted and annoyed but the clumsiness of attachments and how their email reader handles those attachments.
Attachments remain the worst way to collaborate. Still, it seemed like at least a half good idea at the time. (Borenstein admits what he feels are other failings of attachments including the term “attachment” itself in the Guardian article).
Today things have changed. Attachments should be like horse shoes, repurposed for use in an entirely different game or merely posted on the doorway as an amusement.
As Borenstein himself notes: “The second of [Buddhism's] Four Noble Truths tells us that the cause of all suffering is attachments”
Mark, G.J., Voida, S. & Cardello, A.V. (to appear). “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons”: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email. To appear in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012), Austin, Texas, May 5–10. ACM Press.
We report on an empirical study where we cut off email usage for five workdays for 13 information workers in an organization. We employed both quantitative measures such as computer log data and ethnographic methods to compare a baseline condition (normal email usage) with our experimental manipulation (email cutoff). Our results show that without email, people multitasked less and had a longer task focus, as measured by a lower frequency of shifting between windows and a longer duration of time spent working in each computer window. Further, we directly measured stress using wearable heart rate monitors and found that stress, as measured by heart rate variability, was lower without email. Interview data were consistent with our quantitative measures, as participants reported being able to focus more on their tasks. We discuss the implications for managing email better in organizations.
Fluent, a new service that integrates with Gmail (and eventually, its creators say, with other email platforms) to deliver messages in the flowing fashion of a social media feed. The service, built by a team of former Google developers — the guys responsible for Wave, but don’t hold that against them — converts Gmail’s grids into a message-sharing service that’s more dynamic and fluid than any kind of letter-writing has been before, giving way to an inbox that’s not a box at all so much as a Twitter-like feed of information.
I think I’ve mentioned earlier that Wave was a good idea executed terribly from a social point of view (to say the least). Nonetheless I found it useful as it combined many of my styles of communicating, integrated many of the sites and environments that I used to communicate and allowed me to “slice and dice” the various threads and conversations.
I’m no longer interested in how to improve email or it’s best current implementation – Gmail — but if I were I’d be giving Fluent.io a test drive.