Recently during an AV in the AM discussion one of the topics that came up was employee burnout and how to prevent it. A matter of debate was electronic mail and how to manage it. That was when people started sharing the number of unread emails that they have. That is when I got scared.
A few of us saw that amount and got ornery about it. Here is what I had to say:
To me 75,729 unread/unacted emails is a problem. That is more than 20 unacted emails everyday for 10 years.
Also just poor information management. As a client seeing that it would concern me: would my email get lost? How is information managed.
My brain is still boggled by the quantity of unread messages. Yes one can mark a read message unread. If one spends one minute per email to read & react that is still 150+ business days. Very unique organization system that has odd failure modes.https://twitter.com/BradfordBenn/status/1109954734432096258
I started writing this piece and then set it aside to attend to other matters as well as try to find the rest of the article. I was unsure what the take away would be, to quote my friend George, “Why does the reader/listener care?” It then hit me this past week while at work. As someone who put in the time to write the email to see it go unread told me the time I spend after-hours is wasted.
Allow me to explain some things about my work environment; I am not going to tell you much of who I work for or what I projects or tasks I am involved with. I take my NDA’s very seriously. Besides, writing about work environments can be very tricky and wrought with unintended consequences.
I do understand the importance of walking down the hall to talk with people. That can be difficult when one of the parties is over one thousand miles away. Also with having multiple tasks going on, not everything happens during business hours, between 8:00 and 17:00.
I was not going to be able to talk with all of the stakeholders about a meeting scheduled for the next day. I stayed late to get the information to the stakeholders as quickly as possible. I was not sure what time people would be checking e-mail, but we had a meeting about the subject the next day. The meeting arrived the next day, and it became clear that the e-mail was unread, not by just one party but by all people. I know for a fact that it is not unique to my employer.
The standard answers, “Do you know how many e-mails I get a day?” or “I saw it but didn’t read it.” or my favorite as there are laptops, “It was too long to read on my phone.” These could be reasons; these could be excuses. The takeaway though was that because of unread or stagnant e-mails the extra hours I took to prepare for that meeting is effort and time wasted. Whether intentional or not, the people in that meeting had just said that information that had been gathered and the energy expended was lost or not necessary.
So that image of thousands of e-mails unread is sending a message that any effort they put forth into an e-mail to use most likely a waste. Is that the message you want to send to people? There are many approaches that can be used to “hide” or not display such a large number on a display. That however does not fix the underlying issue, just the symptom.
I do not chase inbox zero. I strive for inbox read each day. Now if you will excuse me, I am off to act upon about 300 messages that built up this week.
Saturday, March 30, 2019