Commentary

Email: Waste Of Time Or Killer App?

Last week, a piece of research was released that seemed to confirm what the researcher was trying to prove. The study, released on April 18 by research firm Gartner, said workers spend an average of 49 minutes per day managing email and that 24% spend more than an hour per day on this task. It went on to infer that this was a big waste of time for corporate America.

Why is this a bad thing? To me, email is one of the most incredible tools I ever came across. Let me count the ways.

* - It permits me to stay on top of a lot of projects on the part of my staff. A simple cc: keeps me "in the loop" without having to attend yet another meeting.

* - I can respond when I have the time. I personally find the phone quite handy but very interruptive. The assumption of the person on the other end is that what they are calling about is the most important thing you could be doing at that moment. With email, I can respond when I have the time, and after I have considered my reply. This makes my involvement in the topic at hand much more relevant and efficient. The research, trying again to prove the point, stated that only 27% of emails demanded immediate attention. All the better. To deal with it on my schedule, not someone else's.

* - I can opt-in to information streams I am very interested in but do not have the time to search out. A simple glance at the morning's headlines from the NY Times Technology email and Business email gives me a heads up on any important issues involving top companies. Much faster than reading the paper. I can also get information streams like Iconocast that probably would not be efficient to produce any other way.

* - Conversely, we can launch email campaigns to an opt-in list more affordably than any other method ever devised.

* - I can send a note efficiently to my whole staff, or groups within our company. How many people remember how laborious this was before we had email. It involved a lot of paper and took considerably more time, on everyone's part.

* - I can communicate quickly to my clients on major issues. And, they can get through to me just as quickly. If I am in a meeting or away from my desk, it's there when I return. Or, I can deal with it early in the morning or late at night, once again on my own schedule. Before email, telephone tag would sometimes go on seemingly forever.

* - I can send a note to dozens of individuals, and if I put all addresses in the bcc field, they don't know that I have sent this to so many people. It appears to be individualized and gets optimal attention.

* - I'm sure that you have your own list of email advantages. Just as there are abuses by some sending senseless drivel or responding to something that needs no response. People do waste time with email. But they do in meetings, on the phone and in every other form of communications.

Sure, meetings are nice. But you can spend your life in them. Email is far from the end-all or be-all. As the research points out, chat rooms, instant messaging and bulletin boards can sometimes be more efficient than email. I agree. We use instant messaging for quick internal messages. Things like getting someone's attention for a short chat, making sure that they have the time before I camp out next to their desk waiting for them to get off the phone or finish the paragraph they are writing. Introducing instant messaging into our office environment cut down on commotion big time. But nothing replaces email. If it is not our single most valuable application, I don't know what is.

But, I guess once again, I am preaching to the choir. After all, aren't you reading this as a result of an opt-in email? Just needed to get this off my chest. Thanks for listening.

- David L. Smith is President of Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco and New York based Integrated Interactive Media Agency and Consultant. His email is smith@mediasmithinc.com and he does not mind if you write him.

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