"What would your job be like without email? Would you get more done or less done?"Without email, it would be very difficult for me to do the things I do. Thanks to email (and I'm lumping IM in here, too), I'm able to serve a global client base from anywhere. While I would certainly be more focused without the disruption of email and other electronic messaging tools the nature of my work would be changed; I would be limited to serving only those people I could meet with, and the time it would take to get things done would increase significantly if I had to work without email.
Still, there's no question that we're inundated with electronic communication; the media and blogs have discussed this topic before. Two years ago, I wrote about the impact of spam on my own mailbox. Some have even argued that email is bad for your brain. It's tempting to shut off email; Like Kelly, I've read about a few organizations that eliminate e-mail for internal communications, forcing their employees to engage face-to-face. This is tempting, and I'm sure that there might even be an initial productivity boost within the organization. But I question whether it is really practical in this day and age of virtual teams.
Would we lose the productive edge if we were to eliminate electronic communications? I think so. If not the productive edge, certainly the competitive edge. Do I think we could we use e-mail in a more productive way? Absolutely.
For many people, email is not as big a disruption as compulsively checking to see if anything new has arrived. I believe that it's the behavior, not the technology of email that's so disruptive.
I believe that we must develop new ways - indeed, new behaviors - to help us use the productive benefits that technology offers, without allowing that same technology to interfere with our productivity or the productivity of these we work with.
Once in a while, I'll unhook from the internet for 24 hours so that I can get some "real work" done. It's great, but it can be limiting if I need some information from someone and I cannot easily communicate with them. Further, when people cannot reach me, it can have an adverse effect on their productivity as well. The same interference blocking that lets me get work done, inhibits my ability to get work done. Over the years, I've tried many tools and tricks. One of my first commercial software products, MailScout, was designed to curb the "flood" of email - at a time when 25 emails a day was considered excessive and a real productivity drain. In the end, these were great products, and they helped solve a problem, but not the problem. In fact, by making information more readily available any place and at any time, they probably added to the problem.
What we need, is a solution to maintain interference blocking without losing the ability to communicate as well. I believe that the ultimate solution will end up being as much technological as it will be behavioral.
What do you think?