I just read an article by a very smart man, Nathan Zeldes, who believes that we need a benchmark for email classifier performance.  In other words, some way of gaging how well auto-prioritization Maybe.  Maybe not.

It seems that most email apps these days are looking for this algorithm as if it were the Holy Grail that will finally set us free from the bonds of email slavery, when in fact prioritizing email is the easiest part for people to do. Our brains are perfect for this kind of work and we do it very quickly. Delete, delete, file, normal, high, normal, delete, etc. Most people can go down their list of mails and figure it out just by the sender and subject line, and perhaps a glance in the preview pane. This is not the bottleneck and nor is it a problem that people are looking for a solution to — because there is no recognition that prioritizing email helps.

To be clear, I am in the “prioritize before doing” camp, but this is only because I am able to enjoy the benefits of SYSTEMATICALLY prioritizing my mails before processing them every day. Most people (99%) have no real prioritization system – even the ones that think they do.

This is a latent challenge. Only when enough people understand the benefits of SYSTEMATICALLY prioritizing before responding reaches a tipping point will the masses understand the travesty of lost productivity and profitability.

Perhaps we will find this amazing algorithm one day, and benchmarking seems like one way to expedite the process, but first we have to educate leaders about the very thing they extol to their subordinates: Prioritize what’s important. It doesn’t happen automatically (yet) and until it does, you have to do it yourself – systematically. Yes, for email too.

Michael Hoffman

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