Complaints about unwanted messages, the inability to ever achieve 'inbox zero' and the general hassle of staying on top of email are a constant factor in modern working life. But while it's easy to complain and tempting to argue that email has become irrelevant and out-of-date, the fault often lies with the recipient, not the medium.
Picture by Karl Sinfield
Gartner analyst Craig Roth makes the point very well in a recent blog post examining a "charter" of suggested rules identifying things that shouldn't be done through email. As he points out, simply saying "this isn't appropriate for email" ionly goes halfway; you also need to suggest a suitable method for dealing with the issue. As he puts it:
These different conversational needs exist and if email isn’t the right way to do them, then the right answer isn’t to lengthen, shorten, reword, and re-address the message to shoehorn it into your ideal email. The right answer is to treat the message need as valid and describe what other channel should be used instead.
He also notes that blanket rules about when to use email won't always be helpful, since organisational cultures vary widely. If you need sign-off from someone who routinely responds to email but ignores IM, trying to use the latter is fairly pointless. Ultimately, if you can't keep your email under control, are the odds really any better that you'll manage your work Facebook profile or your IM presence or your text messages?
We've highlighted plenty of tactics for clearing your inbox and cutting down on unwanted emails, and those strategies remain relevant. But don't delude yourself that switching away from email would make life easier. Chances are you'd just end up with a different communications nuisance to solve.