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Mailbag: Checking e-mail vs. working productively

Feb 23, 20062 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* 'E-mail is the antithesis of what an operation should use for establishing priorities'

In response to a recent newsletter about checking e-mail vs. working productively, I received some interesting comments from readers that I’d like to share with you:

* “E-mail is the antithesis of what an orderly/managed operation should use for establishing task/project/resource priorities. The sender of a work related issue assumes that since they sent it their request is getting the recipients’ full attention; the sender also uses this as a CYA: ‘I sent it, and now IT is the bottleneck’! If the recipient has been chastised in the past for not responding promptly in the past, their thought process is redirected from the current activity (which, I admit, is assuming that he was trying to be productive) to the latest ‘alert.’ Keep doing this all day and no wonder people go home wondering where their day went. It is possible that both of these parties, and their managers, might construe this as productive! At least they were not surfing the Web all day, eh? Alternative? A FIFO [first in, first out] project/task tracking system, with re-prioritization by managers, might seem rigid/un-American but every other facet of large scale social interactions tend to work this way.”

* “I believe you’ve missed a couple of critical points in your article. Firstly, instant messaging (IM) is an interruption. If you are doing work requiring concentration, it requires a significant time to become productive at the original task again. Programming shops estimate this time at between 5 and 15 minutes. E-mail does not have this problem to anything like the same degree, since it is essentially ignored during periods of concentration. Secondly, opening an e-mail is part of a sorting process. You can’t generally assess whether an e-mail is important until you’ve opened it. Once opened and assessed, it is frequently more efficient to deal with it immediately than to file it, retrieve it, reread it, and then deal with it. Thirdly, from my observations of IM behavior, it would be far more efficient to use IM to confirm that a person is available to speak and then use a telephone. Fourthly, if a bot can decide what is important to your job, maybe it should be doing that job.”

Many thanks to the people who responded to the article.