Email is not the problem – Hint… We are!

Email is not the problem

Everyone likes to blame Email for all of their information overload problems, but as we will learn, Email is not the problem - We are!

Email has grown to become the dominant and preferred mode of business communication because it is effective, efficient, fast, and accurate.
— Michael Einstein

The virtualization of business activities, telecommuting, and collaborative projects with those in different time zones are all made possible through the use of Email.

Yet despite Email's many benefits, the high-volume of messages and their constant interruptions result in Email Overload for many in the business (and non-business) world.

This results in cognitive processing issues, including lost messages, missed deadlines, and difficulty storing and retrieving information.

Work also becomes fragmented as a result of these interruptions, resulting in lower productivity, errors, omissions, and reduced decision making abilities.

Yet, despite these many challenges and issues, Email itself is not the primary problem.

Rather, it is how we use (and abuse) Email as a communication media that is the underlying source of our challenges.

There was a time (not so long ago) when the telephone was our primary source of personal and business communications. You would come into the office in the morning, see the "dreaded blinking voicemail light", and listen to the messages that accumulated since you left the office.

Your day started with reviewing all of these messages, returning calls, playing "phone tag", leaving messages, and missing calls while being on other calls.  Add "beeping pagers", "fax machines", and "overnight mail delivery" to that mix, and things were a mess back then as well.

Sound familiar to the overload issues we face with Email today?

(Sometimes we seem to remember the "good old days" through "rose colored sunglasses"!)

And today, we're seeing challenges with managing communications in the growing array of social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook), collaborative environments (Google hangouts, Microsoft Sharepoint, Hyperoffice) and real-time media (Instant Messaging, Webex, Skype).

But we shouldn't blame the media as the source of our issues, or give up and declare Email bankruptcy (which isn't feasible for most in the business world).

Rather, we need to instead focus our efforts on teaching individuals and organizations how to use the right type of media for the right types of situations.

This includes not only technology training in how to use our tools and systems effectively, but also organizational training in how to use the tools appropriately within our businesses, and behavioral training in how to use the tools efficiently, such as avoiding distractions and improving the quality of our communications.

The bottom line is that our focus shouldn't be so much on the issues of a specific tool, but rather on investing the personal and organizational resources in targeted training to improve knowledge, skills, and fluency of individuals and groups across all available media types.

What do you think?  Is Email the problem, or just the latest tool that highlights our own challenges?

Please feel free to post your comments/thoughts below!

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