E-mail Overload: How Our Actions Impact Others

I send you an e-mail.  You open it, read it, think about it.  No big deal.  It only takes you just a few minutes to get back to where you were.

But magnify that by the size of your team, maybe 20 people, your division, 2000 people, your subsidiary, 20,000 people and so on.

And then consider the number of people whom you cc’d on your last note.  It was 15, wasn’t it?  Or was it, as a recent e-mail I saw, more like 300?  After all, e-mail is a great way to keep people informed – or is it?

It wasn’t even the cc’ing of the 300.  Only 10 people really needed to get that note but the other 290 each lost only maybe five minutes of their day.  That was, until a colleague hit reply to all.

Let’s just stop and recap for a moment.  By including 290 people unnecessarily in the e-mail, the sender was responsible for the loss of a minimum of 24 hours of colleagues’ time.

Now, imagine that, in this 20,000 person organization, 1% of the population sends out e-mails like this once a day.

That’s an immediate loss of 4800 hours a day, or 200 person days.  Just in one day.

Now back to our friend about to hit reply to all, just to say “Great. Thanks.”  300 people will see an e-mail from him and many will open it, let’s say half.  We just lost 12.5 person hours.

Fortunately, not all 20,000 knowledge workers in the company send out such e-mails (if they did, it would result in a loss of 20,000 person days each time it happens).

Most e-mails include far fewer recipients; the average number of people cc’d on e-mails I get is three (I am not including e-mails with zero cc recipients in this tally).  Still, each time we create a new e-mail message, it has the potential to cost our colleagues quite a bit of time.

Why am I telling you this?  I have one goal in mind.  When you feel the urge to send an e-mail, choose your recipients carefully.  Think of the cc field as a “need to know” field.  If the recipient doesn’t fall into the “need to know” category, don’t include him.  When you get an e-mail, even if you feel the need to be polite, try to restrain yourself and don’t select Reply-to-All and write “Great. Thanks.”

That is all. We now return your to your regularly scheduled information overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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