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Copernicus and the Inbox

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Here’s an interesting article about how email hurts employee productivity.

As a general rule, this is a hard lesson to learn. One reason that it is hard for people to get their heads around the fact that email is inefficient is because compared it to the methods of communication that came before it, it is enormously efficient. It costs next to nothing. It’s everywhere. It’s close enough to instantaneous that most people regard it as being just that.

Of course there are faster ways, but for normal communication, Email will do just fine. And that experience of having email handle normal communication just fine is another reason it’s hard to get people to understand that it is hurting their productivity. It’s not easy to convince people that, “Hey, that thing that works fine dozens or hundreds of times every day isn’t actually working fine.”

But the reason why email leads to lost productivity is because people use it as something other than a way to handle normal communication.

Have you every peaked under the hood of how other people organize their workflow? Many a proud email user will gush about how they have developed a system of organizing their work using their email inbox. They do things like using their inbox as a to do list by flagging messages that need follow up. They store documents that have been sent to them in their inbox. They keep all of their email in their inbox forever; never archiving or filing.

The cited article talks about how email is inefficient, but in reality, Email is a fine way to handle normal communication. Email starts killing your productivity when it is used for document storage, as a to do list, basically anything other than a tool for normal communication.

Benefiting from email is easy. Use it for communication. When an email contains a task, extract the task and put it in your system for managing your tasks; a list on a piece of paper, task tracking software, whatever you use. If the email contains a document, save it to a central location where everyone who needs to be able to access it can do so. Multiple versions of documents bouncing between multiple inboxes doesn’t serve anyone. Save it on a shared drive and send around the document path.

And then be done with that email. File it. Archive it. Put it somewhere where it won’t sit along side of or be confused with something that needs your attention. The email was a piece of inbound communication. It has served it’s purpose. Extract it’s information and get it out of the way. Otherwise you’ll be re-reading it someday. Guaranteed.

In our business, Lead Management, we noticed long ago how much slower it is to manage leads using email. Email seems fast, but compared to a solution that passes lead data in real time xml posts it’s sluggish. Email seems pretty organized, but compared to a solution that automates follow up, it’s like pinning note cards to a corkboard.

Keeping your inbox at the center of your work universe, with all your work revolving around it may be comfortable, but the cost of that comfort is productivity.

Pass the Beans!

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