A Critique On Emails

The system of electronic mails that is in place today, is an archaic system, in my view. It has just rendered electronically, a centuries old process, with very few value additions.

Centuries Old Process
If I were living two millennia back, and I had sufficient money, I would hire a horseback messenger to carry my messages. The message would be addressed to a person and the messenger would be advised to state the subject covered in the message verbally before handing over any written testimony (if I were literate).


Paper Mail
More than twenty years back, when I took up my first job, we didn’t have emails. One of the most important piece of office supplies that we had was a stationery notepad with the words “Inter Office Memo” printed on top. We would write with pen on this, tear out a sheet and hand it over to the messenger-boy of our department – a young lad whose only job is to walk across the factory whenever messages ought to be delivered. On the memo is written a distribution list & the recipients initial the note as proof of them having read it. The memo is then kept in he department file. Emails have only automated this.


Daily Planner

The other important contribution of the email system today that of maintaining appointments. Looking back twenty years, we used to maintain a daily planner sheet at work where we would write down the appointments and follow the sequence. Of course, the planner cannot prompt and remind – but human brain was found capable of not requiring such prompters! Once again, I find that the current system is nothing but an electronic rendering of this ask with very little blue addition.

The Problems
In a day, I get over 200 mails. Only 30% of the mails are addressed to me as an individual and only 5% of the mails are directly actionable by me! Of the remaining mails, around 25% is accountable to my team believing in copying me on their communications for reasons that I have not figured out till now, around 35% is accountable to my membership to a community of roles in my Organisation, ominously called The Distribution List, and the rest attributable to my indiscretions in allowing my mail ID to lie around on the Net and resultant spam.

For the 5% tasks, that are actionable by me, only a small fraction is clear about what outcome is expected by my actions!

And, I could go on bout the ills of the mail based processes forever…

A Potential Solution
The key problem, as I see it, with the email system is that it places people as the central purpose instead of the task to be accomplished.

In today’s workplace of virtual collaboration, the system should have the task, it’s measure of success, associated documents and metadata tags at a central place. The person who raises the task should associate a RACI matrix for the task to be accomplished and attach names of individuals, functions and role-names to the RACI matrix clearly outlining expectations. Meetings, events and intermediate milestones should be part of the task in itself. It should be possible to link the tasks to sub-tasks, side-branches and super-tasks, visibility for which would be based on their individual RACIs with option to inherit.

There would, of course, be a suitable client to provide a user interface for the above system to work. The client should be intuitive and user-friendly to overcome resistance to move from email systems (or, should we call it withdrawal symptoms?).

Questions To Reader
The more I think of this, the more I want the world to be email free. I would like to ask readers of this blog what they think of my suggestion to move away from mails.

  • Is it feasible?
  • Are there any software applications – commercial or open source – that can help realise the above solution?
  • I have heard of some organizations that had taken this kind of a step in recent times – any information available on how they fared?

2 thoughts on “A Critique On Emails

  1. Birth of “Transactional task management” software. I quite like the idea and see the use of a “transactional task mgmt” software that could be used for any task that may take more than 3 days to complete and requires participation from more than 1 person to complete the task.
    Will it reduce email clutter? Not sure….
    IMHO, reducing email clutter requires a change in the mindset and culture.

  2. Go back to voice and conference calls. Less use of bytes that linger on and cause a clutter. I spend half the time unfollowing mails that have no business lying in my inbox. I have customers marking me mails that they are communicating to their spouses, though they share the same roof. The worst thing is trail-mail which in most cases just hang about as a tail.

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