Create Choices Not Barriers

All this talk about prohibiting internal e-mail in companies is getting to me.  I don’t think it’s a crazy idea – but almost.  Actually, it wouldn’t be such a crazy idea if that was the only way out of this mess, but it isn’t, and therefore such draconian measures are immature; immature in the true meaning of the word as in “not mature or lacking maturity”.

E-mail management is still very much in its infancy.  All you have to do is ask a few people about their method of managing mail and you won’t get much more than puzzled looks and grasping at straws.  Very few people can say:

First, I sort by deleting the junk, archiving what needs to be saved (mail I don’t need to act upon, but would like to save) off the bat, and prioritize the mails I need to act upon.

Second, I answer any mails that I can using the 2-minute rule[1]; making sure that I start with the high priority mails first.  This may sound obvious but can you honestly say that you have a systemized way of doing this? – and I don’t mean hunting and pecking.  That’s not a system.

Third, any mails that I cannot answer immediately I take a note on (directly in my inbox) and plan it by entering the date I want to perform that next action (directly in my inbox).  Granted, you cannot carry out the last two operations with a standard mail program (though LeanMail can provide you with an add-on so you can), but it is quite obvious that this is the way to go.

If you follow this simple 2-step process, 90% of your problems with e-mail will be solved so that you don’t need to impose draconian measures, which cause resentment and frustration.  Throwing the IT switch may cut the flow of messages that would have been better addressed by tools such as Communicator, Messenger, Skype, Yammer, etc., but it also cuts the flow of e-mails that SHOULD be e-mails.

The question is: why shut down the highway instead of making the side streets more attractive and obvious better choices in certain situations?

If I’m in a rush to get to San Francisco from LA, I take Route 5, but if I’m renting a Mustang convertible and taking my woman for the first time, I’m obviously going to take the Pacific Coast Highway.  That’s because I know about and have experienced the options.  Instead of creating barriers let’s create choices – which is different from rolling out some software and sending a memo out.

Unfortunately few companies understand that difference and therefore revert to immature tactics.

[1] A rule attributed to the great David Allen which states that if you can do it in less than 2-minutes the first time you touch it you’re wasting time if you don’t do it right away.

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