E-mail. No-one thinks of it as a social app. It’s hardly what we think of as Web 2.0, yet it’s the most social piece of software most of us use each day.
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Oh, and it’s broken.
She pointed out that e-mail has gone from something you needed a business case for a decade ago, to the first thing you get in a new job. And that’s creating a problem:
• 13% of people are getting more than 250 e-mails per day
• 56% of people think they’re spending too long on e-mail.
The reality is worse than that, she suggested, because we tend to underestimate our e-mail use.
The fundamental problem is that e-mail alerts interrupt us – there’s a cost to that.
It takes us
1m 44 secs
64 seconds to get our train of thought back after we deal with e-mail. (The 1m 44s figure is for how long we take to process the alert. Thanks for the correction, Suw) We can’t afford to spend a day a week figuring our what we were doing.
Psychologist have a term that describes our relationship with e-mail: operant conditioning – when we check e-mail, sometimes we get a nice one.That starts to create an emotional relationship with checking e-mail. Scientists explore the idea by feeding rats when they press levers. Rats will press a lever five times, if that’s how often it takes to get food. But they get obsessed with lever-pushing when the food reward is random. That’s exactly relationship we have with e-mail. We keep checking it, in the hope that an emotionally-boosting one will come through.
Coupled with that, e-mail has become a proxy for work. Web working makes it difficult to judge how productive people are. If send lots of e-mail, clearly they’re doing lots of work – or so goes the thinking.
Together, these responses are rapidly eroding our productivity. So what’s the solution? You need to thhink about other ways of doing the same tasks – but with different tools.
Document collaboration – doing this via e-mail, and merging it all at the end is one of the most soul-destroying ways of doing it. Using wikis is easier.
Sharing Information – Don’t e-mail it. Publishing blogs and make sure everyone uses RSS. There need to be RSS readers for everyone in the company – a step that is often forgotten.
Short Conversations – use IM and chat for instant communication. E-mail makes conversations go on too long, as everyone feels need to be polite. IM conversations tend to be quick and to-the-point.