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Email management with a smile

1 November 2012
Dr. Moria Levy

Most organizations suffer from data overload which manifests in many forms; a prominent one being email overload. Every manager and knowledge worker experiences this problem first hand. Workers try to manage their mail between meetings, addressing some, discarding a few and ignoring the rest. By the next break, the problem (i.e. the emails) has doubled in size. Workers pave their mail between the average 50-100 mails they receive on a daily basis. Plus, even those diligent workers that fully manage their daily batch can expect a newly filled inbox by the next morning.

How efficient is our incoming mail management? With such a vast amount, it seems that cleaning and contracting is a Sisyphean task that leaves no room for learning new information shared via (some) of these emails. Email has begun as such a blessing yet is currently a daily nuisance. While we can't work with it, we are clearly not utilizing the data flowing through it.

So, what can we do? How can we change our email management?

While change can be implemented on an individual level, substantial improvement depends on a larger group of participants. The larger the group, the more substantial the improvement: a crew can attain more than an individual; a unit can attain more than a crew; an organization can reach more significant improvements.

The change is implemented on two levels:

  • The first level is process, computerized, content-oriented.

  •  The second level, on which success greatly relies, is the cultural change.

The first level addresses three themes:

  •  Sent mail: decreasing the number of sent mail; minimizing the amount of each email's recipients.

  •  Incoming mail: decreasing the amount of incoming mail (this can, surprisingly, be partially monitored); decreasing the amount of incoming mail that require handling; improving the prioritization of these emails' handling.

  • Email storage: defining rules for saving mails that decrease the time spent on saving the data as well as the time spent on its retrieval in the future.

Like every KM solution, this first level solution combines computerized aspects with content elements and process implementation. The computerized aspect does not require purchasing any software as it exists in any email software.

The second level that requires change is the cultural aspect. This might raise the question: why is this aspect treated separately, unlike other KM solutions?

Theoretically, this question is legitimate as all aspects could have been combined in one solution. Yet practically speaking, the cultural change is vast. Unlike many KM solutions in which the cultural-perceptual change can be managed through process, computerization and content management, this solution calls for a concentrated investment that required time and effort. Workers need to send and consume fewer emails as well as save fewer emails in fewer places.

My experience shows that this is change is not a simple one. Change processes implemented in organization oddly resemble a rehab process. It's gradual; people need to talk about it; it's easier with a group (culturally and practically) but everyone must implement the change on their individual level (in their own individual pace).Past experiences show that this goal is attainable. This process is worthwhile since time is a resource constantly scarce and email can be transformed from a time consumer to a beneficial source of information.

It is possible: you can reach a stage in which emails are received with a smile.


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