We hear about email being tarred and feathered continuously as the scourge of modern workplaces, and strategies abound to deal with this awfulness. These discussions and strategies are all very interesting and helpful to a degree. However, as with most of the modern day problems of overload and too much stuff and all the rest of it – these problems are environmental in nature. Technology has radically changed the landscape out there – not too dissimilar to the motor car replacing the horse. Unlike the transition from the horse and cart to the motor car – the demands for ‘decisions to be made’ did not really change.
Looking at the radical change to the human environment due to technology and connectivity, what has changed so radically is the speed at which this ‘stuff’ comes at us. The days of a phone call, office memo, fax or snail mail order being the height of demands seems unfathomable from our current vantage point of literally 10’s to 100’s of emails per day. So email has been demonised as the culprit of this overload and overwhelming demand on our daily lives at work. Well there is, technically speaking, no ‘real difference’ expect for the amount of stuff at any one time that we ‘expect’ to have to deal with.
There in lies the source of the ‘problem of email’. It is not the email or the technology – that is just a modern efficient means to pass information around. Rather it is the way humans (yes that is us) respond to the email. Most email strategies will have among other things, suggestions such as only check your email once or twice a day – yeah right who seriously does that? We have been conditioned forever in workplaces to respond to ‘requests, demands and expectations’ to do things. In the days of snail mail, phone, fax and memo’s we responded to each new request, even if that meant putting the request in the pending tray. The pace of ‘requests’ was such that this was a manageable strategy.
Now with the speed of requests being as it is – such a strategy of ‘responding’ is completely unsustainable and just plain ridiculous. Yet most of us are on this rat-wheel. Can you see that is it our conditioning to respond that is the problem, not the email process? I hope so – because you can never change the email process no one can, however we are all capable of changing our behaviours – when we know how. So what we need to do is ‘re-condition’ or ‘adapt’ the way we ‘respond’ to email requests to do something. The current conditioning is automatic, and I would hazard a guess that there are not too many people out there consciously aware of their ‘own conditioning’ with ‘responding to emails’.