I googled “too much email” recently and received over 17,000 hits; I know that this is not an original topic. Being a productivity geek of sorts, I have enjoyed reading many pundits write about how to solve the problem. The creator of the term inbox zero, Merlin Mann, is a disciple of David Allen’s GTD philosophy (Getting Things Done). The theory, oversimplified, is that a system to dump all of our to-do’s and then a regular schedule and system to organize those tasks in necessary to be organized. You attach a context to each task, such as email or phone, and then you can complete these tasks when you are at your computer or your phone. Keeping your inbox at zero is crucial for real productivity.
Jon Orlin at Techcrunch recently wrote of a new technique to cut back on email chaos called Three Sentences which espouses “a personal policy that all email responses…will be three sentences or less.” The idea is that, after writing your brief email, the reader would read your signature which says:
Q: Why is this email three sentences or less?
I average 100-120 emails a day during the week. (Today it was 129). Granted, some of it is spam but either way, emails have replaced other forms of communication. I would argue unscientifically that through my 15 years of the Principalship, I have saved time by replacing most phone calls with email. There are other advantages: I can reply to an email in my own time, and with a phone call, there is a tendency for my callers to extend beyond the original intent of the call into other areas. With email, this is less likely.
Most of my to-do list comes from email. Has the bar simply been raised because of email? Do I have more tasks due to email? I don’t think so. In fact, email helps me organize my professional life by providing documentation of conversations. Via OmniFocus, a strong task management program, I am able to coordinate nearly all of what I have to accomplish in my job. I can even set my calendar to send me an email as a reminder.
Perhaps the key is not to boycott email or waste too much energy stressing over this method of communication. We can learn from Twitter that brevity and conciseness is invaluable and embrace the organizational potential of email.