Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 29;   July 16, 2003: Emailstorming



Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?

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 email
That'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
A stormRoutine 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Poverty of Choice by Choice  Next Issue

For much more about Emailstorming, see "Emailstorming"

101 Tips for Writing and Managing EmailAre 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!

Where There's Smoke There's EmailAnd 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenMCGuoOPJJylRBOZfner@ChacarfPlXZwsdPaxzDDoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A forest fireOrganizational Firefighting
Sometimes companies or projects get into trouble, and "fires" erupt one after another. When this happens, we say we're in "firefighting" mode. But it's more than a metaphor — we have a lot to learn from wildland firefighters.
Pulling at each otherWhen You Think They've Made Up Their Minds
In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that "they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
Albert Einstein playing his violin on his 50th birthday in 1929The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion, the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
A single-strand knotTangled Thread Troubles
Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternWorkplace Anti-Patterns
We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Writing and Managing Email for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A tangle of cordageComing 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.
A Mustang GT illegally occupying two parking spaces at Vaughan Mills Mall, OntarioAnd 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.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenukXyUwQZLGRgPrdwner@ChacZnOSGYMjqqeYxARQoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
So buried in email that you don't even have time to delete your spam? Learn how to make peace with your inbox.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Dozens of articles about dealing with problems that come up in email.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.