The Scourge of Email Slush

impossible and, I’m sure, compromises the quality of decision making.

Xobni’s survey on email overload provides stark, if not surprising, evidence that email is increasingly invading our personal time.  There’s nothing particularly new in the analysis.  I think we probably could have guessed that Americans are marginally more guilty than Brits of logging on while on vacation, and it’s amusing to note that our US colleagues will doggedly stay connected even on their sick-beds, whereas us Brits – especially the males of the species – are out-and-out hypochondriacs.  To me, though, there are more interesting forces at play than the simple paradigm shift that smart-phones have provoked.

1.      We have stopped respecting each other’s time, and that’s all down to the mobile phone.   If you leave it on, people will call you.  Or, more importantly, if you leave it on, people think it’s okay to call you, so they take advantage.  To me, if you want private time, you put the sign up, metaphorically speaking. In reality, that means switching the phone off.  Again, I’ve never had any problem with this – if you respect your own time, others tend to follow suit.  If you make yourself available 24x7, you’re asking for trouble.

2.      We CRAVE interruption.  Meetings today are often incredibly disjointed.  During a presentation, two or three people have laptops up, pretending to take notes but more likely keeping track of incoming email.  Another two of three are scanning email on iPhones and BlackBerries under the table.  Even the presenter has little pop-up messages telling him who’s just logged into Skype, and what new messages have arrived.  Emails demand to be read, and the temptation to stop what you’re doing – whether it’s writing a white paper or talking to a colleague – is too great for most.  To me, this has become deeply disturbing, because it is now almost UNHEARD OF to have a genuine, concentrated, intense, face to face meeting with ANYONE, without interruption. It makes concentration, deep thought and analysis all but

3.      We are ADDICTED to being connected.  Again, BlackBerry has traditionally taken the rap for the addiction notion, but the truth is it was already happening with the internet and it’s got a whole lot worse with push email.  Email, generally – the idea of a fresh new message popping into an inbox, in bold, pleading for you to read it in the same way a slot machine says “play me, play me” - we just can’t get enough of it. Why are people so grumpy during email outages?  Is it all about productivity?  Or is it that we need to feel wanted, all the time, and a vibrant email screen gives us that fix.

4.      Finally, we have an enormous problem with SLUSH email.  Viruses and spam are dangerous, but hopefully they’ve been all but eradicated before they hit your inbox (ideally, before they hit your Exchange server).  But slush email keeps flooding in.  What is the life span of an email in your inbox?  My guesstimate would be that 80% of emails are deleted straight away.  Maybe it’s an office maintenance message that’s gone to the whole company – “AIRCON BEING FIXED ON 2ND FLOOR”.  Maybe you’re being ‘slushed’ by people selling you something you don’t want.  But most commonly, you’ve been mindlessly cc-d on string after string of mails where nothing is expected of you and to which you can add no value.  Especially if you’re on vacation.  Or suffering from the plague.

There are two types of people who check email on vacation.  CEOs and other high flying types often have no choice.  Big deals are doing down, decisions need to be made, and they simply have to keep on working.  They aren’t ever, really, on vacation.  But for the rest of us, we log on to delete the slush, so we don’t get drowned in the stuff when we return to work.  If anyone can figure out a solution to the slush issue, I’d love to hear it.