The scourge of email

Somewhere I read or heard about a guy who would check his email twice a day: at 8 AM and 4 PM.  He had an auto responder set to reply to all emails that he will check email and respond in one of those time slots.  I want to be that guy.

At some point along the way, during the evolution of electronic communication, email ceased to be a collaboration tool and became a distraction tool.  Like a Pavlov’s dog, at that ding, buzz, popup, vibration, the ever famous “You’ve got mail” notice of a new email we drop everything and grab our mouse, keyboard, laptop, mobile device and spring into action of reading and immediately replying to that all important email.  “I get email therefore I exist”, said Dilbert in one strip.

If you sent me an email, that means you really need an answer from me, like now.  And if I don’t reply in 5, 10, 15 minutes, you start getting antsy.  You may even call me, “Hey, I sent you an email.  Did you see it?”  After all, you know that I’m there, you can see my online status in your IM app.  You know that I have a BlackBerry.  So there should be no excuse for me not to reply to you, right?

Well, wrong!

This modus operandi may be fine if your job is to answer email.  But if your job is to complete a task, to prepare a document, to run a meeting, then email is nothing more than a distraction.  The message they sent you is certainly important to the sender, and someone else’s priority is upsetting your priorities.

Email is a documentation tool and it’s a good communication tool when used properly with respect and appropriate expectations on both sides.

It is NOT an instant messaging tool.  IM is the instant messaging tool, that’s why it is called IM.  And it is not a substitute for face-to-face or phone-to-phone communication.

One of these days I may become important enough and be able to afford an auto-responder “I check email twice a day.  I’ll respond to you then.”  Until then, sadly enough, I’ll continue to be a victim of the email scourge.  Although, my Mail client is set to not alert me of new messages with popups; the volume on my laptop is turned off and I don’t hear those beeps; and my BlackBerry is set to to a Phone-only profile, remaining silent and stone-faced when emails arrive.

And in conclusion, a real life story…

My mother likes to forward a great deal of all those cute, humourous and various “educational” emails.  In a moment of a lapse in judgement I confessed to her that I summarily delete 99% of these emails without ever opening them.  She took it as a personal affront: if someone [my mother] took the time to put together and sent an email, it is disrespectful of them and the time they spent to not read it.  “And what about my time?  The time it takes to read it”, I asked.  She disregarded my question.

 

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