Bonnie returned with six minutes to spare before her eleven o'clock — just enough to check voicemail and email, if she did both at once. Slipping on her headset, she punched pound-six on the phone, and clicked "Check Mail" on her screen.
As she listened to her voicemail, her email program began downloading the first of 28 messages. 'Amazing,' she thought, 'either I'm really important, or nobody respects my time.' After the seventh message, she had to leave for her eleven o'clock.
Emailstorming is like
brainstorming, but instead
of using our brains,
we use emailThat's why she missed message 17, which announced the room change for her meeting. She would arrive late, as would three colleagues.
Bonnie's organization is experiencing Emailstorming. Emailstorming is like brainstorming, but instead of using our brains, we use email.
In the constant storm of messages, only a few have significance to their recipients. We spend too much time figuring out which messages we care about, and we miss important messages completely, or get to them too late, as Bonnie did.
Here are some causes of Emailstorming, and some tips for dealing with them.
- Shotgun messaging
- The sender "shotguns" the message to anyone who might be tangentially interested. Often, shotgunners want to be able to say later "I sent it out, didn't you see it?"
- To keep someone "in the loop," send a private — possibly annotated — copy of your message. That way, they receive only the message, and none of the subsequent "Reply All" messages.
- Annoy All
- Sometimes Reply All is appropriate. At other times, a Reply All may actually be an "Annoy All." The risk of annoyance is enhanced when the reply is relevant only to the recipient.
- Be selective about replies. Most often, only the sender needs the reply, but sometimes a few of the CCs want it too. Be judicious.
- Mass announcements
- Routine announcements sent separately by HR, Security, or other functions generate potential interruptions for every recipient. These messages are especially annoying when they apply to only a portion of the recipient population.
- Consolidating non-emergency mass announcement messages into a weekly internal e-newsletter not only reduces inbox clutter, but also reduces interruption rates.
Implementing these solutions sometimes requires individual action, and sometimes coordinated action. For example, Management plays an important leadership role in addressing the problem of Mass Announcements.
Surprisingly, Management also plays a key role in solutions that require individual action. When leaders make the term "Shotgun Messaging" a part of the organizational vocabulary, they make it easier for everyone to recognize it when it happens, and they encourage everyone to address the issue directly with shotgunners.
There is a trap though. Distributing a link to this article throughout your organization via email risks violating the intent of sending it. Instead, get the message out by making Emailstorming a topic of an organizational meeting or training. Dealing with email problems in email is like throwing water at a flood. Top Next Issue
For much more about Emailstorming, see "Emailstorming"
Are you so buried in email that you don't even have time to delete your spam? Do you miss important messages? So many of the problems we have with email are actually within our power to solve, if we just realize the consequences of our own actions. Read 101 Tips for Writing and Managing Email to learn how to make peace with your inbox. Order Now!
And if you have organizational responsibility, you can help transform the culture to make more effective use of email. You can reduce volume while you make content more valuable. You can discourage email flame wars and that blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates. Read Where There's Smoke There's Email to learn how to make email more productive at the organizational scale — and less dangerous. Order Now!
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 28: Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
- And on April 4: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on April 4.
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