Email Overload

One of the areas that interests me as a developer of tools that attempt to increase productivity are other blogs from individuals and companies doing the same.Deva Hazarika, CEO of ClearContext, wrote a blog about a new organization forming to help deal with the onslaught of email.
This new organization, the Information Overload Research Group (IORG), is an industry consortium designed to gather together some of the largest players in the field to help you, well, be more productive.

  I am personally excited about this because like you, I am inundated with emails – and after all, misery loves company – plus it helps you to deal with problems if you can work on them together.  To that end, I have outlined some goals for the IORG:

  1) Come up with a name to identify the problem so that the general public becomes aware of the problem (and hopefully how to combat it, but awareness is part of the solution).  Recognize that some interruptions you cannot stop (say, you’re a commission based salesperson), and some you wouldn’t want to stop – a commission based salesperson would probably not want to shut off his/her phone because it might be that one important sale that helps you make your sales goal that month, and you wouldn’t want to prevent an email from your boss cancelling the assignment you’re working on from reaching you.

  2) Recognize and enumerate the fundamental causes of the problem (i.e., lack of self-discipline, boredom at work, too many assignments or responsibilities (and thus too many emails) – I mean, it IS possible that you are attempting to do too much (or have been assigned too much work)).

  3) Identify general (non vendor specific) actions that people can take to reclaim their time…turn off the phone for periods during the day, lengthen the time between email send/receive, get senders to think about whether the email is important enough to send, etc.  [Note: I see that the IORG site now has a tips archive that does this…I’ll add more tips in a future blog.]

  4) Identify vendor specific solutions that are available now (ClearContext,  Gmail’s Email Addict).  Who knows, we may throw our hat into the ring at some point – there has to be short term solutions as a stop-gap measure since the problem will only get worse while the long term solutions get ironed out.

  5) Finally, create the goals that only large companies together can solve – for instance, it’d be a great world if I could specify a time each day that all my devices and methods of communication would stop attempting to interrupt me (and I mean my phones, email, and IM at least) for say, 30 minutes by default (and I’d use this much more frequently if it was as simple and reliable as turning on or off a radio).  For me personally, I get my best work done in the morning, so I’d want to be able to come into work, check the messages to be sure there are no immediate fires to deal with, then work uninterrupted until around lunchtime…after which I could come back and respond to the emails and phone calls as needed.  Perhaps even define a standard that cell phone companies and software vendors could adhere to if they so choose.

Here at Sperry Software, we’re always interested in how you deal with what could only be described as “too many emails” or dealing with email overload.  Let me know how you handle it.  Email me at president (at) – we’ll report back after we’ve heard from a few folks and let you know how others are dealing with the problem.

  In the meantime, back to work for me!

  Mike Sperry