4 Email Traps that Hinder Productivity

By Adam Levithan posted 02-26-2014 19:07


For the last 8 years I’ve always had at least one conversation, across different groups of customers, about the benefit of corporate collaboration tools versus the comfortable combination of e-mail and shared drives. I was amazed with the results of a great study by the Harvard Business Review ( that found that only 6% of people are using business collaboration tools. At the same time the study states that 25% or respondents send e-mails to teams and 60% e-mail to individuals. Don’t reread the previous sentence, I did say amazed, but amazed because the numbers for collaboration are so low!

There are some additional results of the study that suggest collaboration has not seen its end. If Instant Messaging and Microfeeds are added to the collaboration total nearly 20% of respondents are using collaboration as we think of it today. So I’d like to add my interpretation to the mix, and raise the bar of why e-mail should be a part of the collaboration spectrum and not the 80% solution. As the majority collaboration solution I believe email is not adding additional productivity, but instead getting in the way of adapting the way we work to new expectations.

Trap 1: Cluttered Inbox

Raise your hand if you believe your email inbox is cluttered, ok just a little so you don’t look strange while reading. If 60% of e-mails go out to individuals they must return from them too, alongside team e-mails, corporate e-mails, and don’t forget junk e-mail. How much time would it save you if you could divert some of this clutter into other systems? It doesn’t have to be this way anymore. E-mail has a place for one-to-one and team conversation that need time and effort to read and properly digest. However, for those brief one-to-one questions and simple replies like “thanks” you can move to an Instant Messaging client. Are you brainstorming with your team, and not quite sure who to involve in the discussion, well then break open your Microfeed.

If you’re interested in learning more join my webinar on Mar 4 Social Series Webinar Sign-up(if you’re too late you can watch the video).

Trap 2: E-mail is accountability

On the positive note, the current trend is to accept an e-mail as a signature or approval of a request, completion of a task, maybe the trip the SharePoint conference you’ve always wanted to attend. However, there is another trend to use a single e-mail to assign several tasks to one, or many individual. While a great avenue for communication with people about what the entire team is working on, it’s never surprising when all of those tasks go uncompleted. As the sender, how do you plan to track them and what do you expect in return? Let’s move to these tasks to a team or project site. If it makes you feel more comfortable, most of these collaboration tools can send out reminders when a task is overdue.

Trap 3: E-mail used as document storage

In the first trap we discussed the overwhelming amount of e-mails that exist in your inbox. Some of these e-mails contain documents to retain, or to review. Do you know which version they are? Do you know how many copies there are floating around your company or your clients’? If you’re using Office products you can always choose to e-mail a link instead of an attachment. I admit this doesn’t work in every situation, but I have seen the increase in productivity when you go to a specific team or project site instead of searching personal e-mails. There is another growing reality, email storage is decreasing. Whether its increased compliance requirements that have e-mails being deleted or Microsoft’s push to the cloud IT departments are rapidly reducing email storage.

Trap 4: It works so why change

There is no argument that e-mail has its place within the collaboration spectrum as a very powerful tool, however, the idea that it is the single most productive method is outdated. If you’re a company of one, choose email to organize your communications. As soon as you add additional co-workers to the mix I would argue that your productivity is reduced because each individual has a different style of communication. I recommend looking at how you communicate with peers, leave the best reasons to use e-mail intact, and move other pieces alternative collaboration technologies to increase your productivity.

#Collaboration #O365 #productivity #E-mail #Collaboration
1 comment


03-04-2014 12:04

E-mail is primarily a communication channel; one of many. It should be used when it fits the nature and reason for communicating. Therefore, the inbox should be treated as a mailbox which captures that communication. It is not a file cabinet, so the communication should move out of the mailbox and into the value stream that moves the work process forward.
Email is not the problem, it is a symptom of a process flow problem.