Email is killing your business



The first email was most likely sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971. At the time, he was working on a government-funded research project that eventually became the internet. He invented a system allowing users to send messages between connected computers that were on the government system.


Queen Elizabeth II was the first head-of-state to use email in 1976. And in case we think it’s all wine and roses, the first spam email was sent in 1978.


Over the last 50 years since Ray sent his first email, the system has matured and expanded to where, in 2021, there were 319.6 billion emails sent, per day.


To say that email has become a blessing and a curse is to put it mildly.


In his book “A World Without Email”, Cal Newport, author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, talks about the communicative beast that is email, and how it could be spawning havoc in the workplace.


As Dr. Newport explains, there are two types of communication: asynchronous and synchronous. For thousands of years, all of mankind’s communication was synchronous, or immediate. The first forms of asynchronous communication, or communication not happening at the same time, were cave painting, pictograms, art, and written languages.


However, synchronous communication remained the principal form of communications. Even the use of the telephone is a form of synchronous communication. It wasn’t until the advent of email that the apple cart was completely overturned.


We may think that email is superior, but as Dr. Newport points out, we would be dead wrong. Synchronous communication is by far the most effective, and more importantly for businesses, the most efficient and productive.


Think of a 5-minute conversation. Two employees (or more if on a zoom call), in real time, discuss and resolve, or at least determine the path forward, and assignments are distributed.


If they take that 5-minute conversation off-line and put it into email, it now generates dozens of messages (if not more) back and forth. And all these messages create ad hoc emails, which are asynchronous, forcing them to continually check their emails to see where they stand, which in turn destroys their productivity.


That quick email, even to one person, can generate 5 or 6 back and forth messages. Since knowledge workers check their emails every 6 minutes, on average, that can amount to 6 to 10 email checks while waiting for a response. This means that you may check your email 60 times while you process and complete that one conversation. That is for one email. Think of all the different projects they have going that use email as the primary means of communication. All these interruptions destroy focus and cause fatigue and anxiousness. Studies show that it can take 10 to 15 minutes to restore focus after an interruption. When 10-to-15-minute focus recovery time is placed alongside the need to check email every 6 minutes, it’s no wonder that at the end of the day we fall back in our chairs and ponder why we didn’t accomplish more.


Solving this problem and regaining our productivity isn’t easy, but there are a few places we can start.


1.   Start by using the very emails that are hurting your productivity. Review them and determine, for each project, how many emails were required, and ask if a simple phone call or zoom meeting would have been better.

2.   Schedule “office hours” and let others know that you are available to meet or speak with them, and stress that this will take the place of email.


Maintaining and improving productivity in the workplace is a constant challenge. It isn’t possible to slay the email beast, but we can at least tame it. If you would like to know more about how to streamline your email and boost your productivity, our professionals at ASN are ready to help. Just give us a call.