One of my housekeeping tasks each day is to clear out both my inbox and my sent items each day, although there is an element of cheating, inasmuch as I often simply move the emails to two other folders: ‘client emails to be filed’ (which my secretary then deals with, although I am told SOS Direct will enable me to direct emails to the right client folder, once we get it) and ‘office emails to be filed’ (which I then archive every week or so). There is, however, a semblance of order although two days out of the office means a lot of “email cleansing” when I get back.
The bottom line, though, is that organisational email has to be brought back under control. Someone once told me that one of the big supermarket chains — it may be ASDA — has a policy in its open-plan HQ that when anyone’s on email they have to wear a red baseball cap. It’s wacky, but might just work.
The mess that is organisational email is actually a symptom of the failure of ICT systems to provide software services that workers really need. Why, for example, do you find that office workers have email inboxes with thousands of messages in them? Answer: because it gives them an electronic filing system that they can use. So instead of being an indicator of how hopeless people are at managing ICT, overflowing inboxes are actually a measure of how ingenious humans are when faced with useless technology.
I am not sure that red baseball caps will work for us (and some of my colleagues would never be able to take them off) but it’s an idea.
What is perhaps more interesting is how long emails will survive. My children now only use email to keep in touch with us; with each other it is instant messaging (and even with us: whether through Facebook or Skype). They don’t yet Twitter, but I am sure that they will soon.