What’s the problem with email?

Many people seem to be struggling with email, drowning in constant stream of messages.The simplest answer to that question is volume. The amount of email received daily exceeds people’s capacity for processing and reacting to them.However I think this answer is simply scratching the surface. There are three basic elements that contribute to the problem with email.

Equality

Anyone can send you an email message all they need to know is you address. I can send an email to anyone in the world no matter who they are provided I know their email address. There are no barriers in terms of access, special costs, permissions. Think of spam or so called unsolicited email, the reason we receive so much of it is the fact that someone with computer can send email messages to everyone. Every email message is equal, when emails are passing through the wires each message looks the same no matter what’s the content. Sure there are filters to block things we don’t want but this does not stop it and spam still forms 90% of email traffic.

Simplicity

Email is one of the simplest communication channels we have available. Just type the email address, content of your message and hit send. You’re done. Your message will be received in seconds, minutes at most. Getting access to email is plain and simple  too, all you have to do is access one of major portals in your country and go through sign up process. Usually it takes three steps because email providers want to make it easy. It’s equally simple to communicate on one to one basis as to email dozens or thousands of people. All you need is their addresses.

Ubiquity

Thanks to recent technology advancements and popularisation of internet connected devices we can receive, read and write email anywhere. Our smartphones and tables periodically check for new messages to grab and alert us with a loud ping. Email knows no delivery hours, unlike standard post email can reach you at 1p.m. or 1a.m. regardless what you do or where you are. Email does not know any boundaries a message from Africa will be delivered to Europe in the same way as a message from South America to Australia. Email is not bound by platform restrictions and difference that’s why you can receive emails from a colleague that uses Linux, a family member using a Mac and you can respond to them using your Blackberry smartphone. All platforms can read and understand the which makes it truly system agnostic tool.

Circling back to the original question, the three elements above on the face of it the seem to be main offenders. One could think it should be possible to make it more difficult to send email or we should ban use of  devices in some places. Unfortunately these three features of email make up exactly what it is now. A highly effective tool, available to millions that is easy to use and that be be accessed from any where.

Back to the Question

So where is the actual problem? I think it’s our behavior. Email is just a tool, a very useful one, if you consider all the benefits that it brings.There are many people preaching email bankruptcy or that we need new tools because email is broken. The problem comes from the fact the people abuse email, make it more difficult for and others to read and respond email. Put various expectation on it with out consideration for how other people function.

Try to think how you use email and how you can improve on it so it’s easier others. As much we can complain about email and how others misuse it, the power to change is in your hands. Change your own behavior. Let others learn from you.

Remember one last, thing the more email you send the more you receive.

Weekly links for 19th of September

A weekly collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Take Back Control of Your Work (and Your Life) – Tony Schwartz
  2. Simplify your life – 2011 edition
  3. Getting Things Done (GTD): Using Evernote to Remember Everything
  4. Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup
  5. Saving Kindle Notes to Evernote

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Weekly links post for 5th March

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them

Start Your Journey by Clearly Defining What Your Sh*t Is

Two Ways to Make Better Decisions

In Meetings, Pen & Paper, Not Glass and Fingers

Authors@Google: Garr Reynolds – Presentation Zen

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Building simple productivity system

Solar system

photo by  Ernst Vikne

Why/What you need

Before you can start building anything you need to know why are you doing and and what do you need it for. Simple answer to question why is to be more effective, to be more organised, to get the right things done, to have more time. You might have other reasons but above would be most common.

What you need in your system will depend on the methodology you’re subscribing to. Perhaps like me you may be a practitioner of David Allen’s Getting Things Done method or you might prefer Steven Covey 7 Habits of highly effective people, maybe Mark Forster’s Do it tomorrow has a greater appeal to you.

Regardless from the method you choose there are certain elements that are mentioned in every approach. They may appear under different name or in different combinations yet they all are referring to the same. The key categories include following items.

– actions/task list

– projects and project plans

– reference material

These three categories cover full spectrum of tasks you may encounter. Simple one off items get added to task list. More complex thing are broken down on project list. This way it’s keep stuff in control and don’t loose those multistep items. Once you are done and want to keep a record of your process and achievements you can save them in reference files along with interesting articles, ideas  etc.

There is a great number of applications used for managing this type of content.I’ve decided to use following services and programs.

  • Remember the Milk – tasks and lists that I use on regular basis.
  • Freeplane – project list, project action plans, goals, multi-step endeavours.
  • Evernote – reference material, project support documents.

Why I’ve chosen these products?

First off all they are simple to use and setup. Because they are good in their particular areas I can get better amount of focus. For example if I’m in Evernote I know there are no tasks for the to look at as any active action/task gets logged to Remember the Milk.

All applications come for free and provide enough features to make you a very productive person. If you want to support developers you can go pro and add couple more features which make the products ever better.

All programs are completely cross platform is some shape or form. This means I can access my tasks, reference material on my Android phone when ever I need. If I have new idea I can always add it to one of my lists. Remember the Milk and Evernote have great mobile clients. My Freeplane maps are compatible with ThinkingSpace application on Android which makes my projects fully accessible from any where.

What’s also important for me is the information flow between these application. Although there is no sync between these services thanks to email I can push some data from one service to another. Alternatively I can take snaps of my mind maps and add to my project files.

These there relatively simple applications allow me the create a system that’s simple, accessible anywhere and free*.

If you use different setup or can recommend other applications please share them in the comments section.

 

[*Just a little note of disclosure: I’m using a pro version of Remember the Milk and will be subscribing to Evernote Pro in next couple of weeks. I’m paying for both on my own.]

Weekly Links Post 30/10/10

I decided to start to post on weekly basis a  collection of articles which might interest you.  I’ll try to cover a various spectrum of topics and areas but still in and around productivity, technology, sefl management.This is the first post of this type and I hope you will like it.