Emails as Waste

Emails as Waste

The cult of emails

Modern communication technologies like messengers, push notifications, emails help us do things faster and with less effort. And that’s great thing. But today I would like to talk about emails and how emails impact our productivity and turn into waste.

Emails as the instant messaging system

The email send-receive process is so fast these days that we are using emails as instant messages. We are sending emails and expecting to get a response immediately. A few reminders – email communication is not a peer-to-peer synchronous system. When an email is sent it goes from your email client to your email server then to the recipient email server and then to the recipient email client. Each of these parts can be a potential point of failure or cause delay. Even when the sender and the recipient use the same email server it’s still not a peer-to-peer process. An failure of the email server may continue for hours or even a few days.

Another issue using email as an instant messanger is the completeness of the message itself. This conversation style which uses short specific question and requires short specific answers is good in a face-to-face conversation that assumes the continuous discussion until all questions get answered. But, providing short narrow specific answers will lead to other new questions which causes more emails and more interruptions.

Emails as a notification system

Many people in an office cc emails to all their colleges even though the email requires only the input from specific people. There are many different reasons as to why a person may cc this email to the entire team but this type of behaviour is a waste for the email recipient. Even to glance at the incoming email requires time. But, if he uses email as an instant messaging system this will cause a distraction and interruption which is not just 30 seconds but much longer. Do not steal time away from your colleagues for they may need it for something more valuable. Also it will lead to many unread emails in their inboxes. In fact some people may have thousands of those unread emails.

Not too long ago, I was asked about some tools that could help clean up their mailbox faster.
My first question was why was it necessary to keep this useless information which only causes frustration. An answer may be: there could be something important in those emails. Well if no one reached out again in the following months then it wasn’t important, and if it was then the person will send it again or try to contact you using a different method.
Pop-up email notifications drive your attention to one of the corners of your computer, or any other device. That’s enough time for you to switch your focus from your current task to an unnecessary interruptive thing which will cost you a lot of time to recover (the deep concentration on the action).

Why people try to reply to their emails right away or as soon as possible?

  • To remove it from their head. It is because not many people can properly manage their actions.
  • They have an obligation because their answer is holding somebody else in that they cannot continue their work.
  • To please somebody.

Emails as Waste

I read an article that describes people beginning to use the practice of answering their emails only once a day or even once a week. And that caused no harm. In fact it may even help to reduce the number of emails, or may not if those emails are notification emails. When the amount of unread emails is over several thousand you have to deal with them somehow. So if your mailbox has 3000 unanswered emails and the average time you spend per email is one minute then you will need 50 hours to completely clean your inbox.

That is why many people are asking about a ‘magic’ tool. Well you don’t need a tool to deal with your emails faster. The only thing that you need is to step back and ask yourself a questions the moment you are reading or writing an email – What is the real value that this brings to me or my customer? Here the customer is not only an external one who pays you money for your product or service but your email recipient. If your answer is that there is no real value then your email is waste. As soon as you understand that your emails are a waste try to reduce them.

Many of us have this email habit. And it is really hard to fight this habit but we can fight it and win by applying the 5Whys (fish bone) technique:


  • Why has the sender sent this email to me? Because he has asked a question I have to answer.
  • Why is he asking me this question? Because it is only I who knows the answer.
    • Solution: share the knowladge in a different way with as many people as possible.
  • Why is he asking me this question? He is not using the knowledge I have shared.
    • Solution: provide the proper training.
    • Solution: answer but with a document link instead of a direct answer
  • Why has the sender sent this email to me? He notifying me about some event or issue.
  • Why he is notifying me over email?
    • Solution: create an issue notification in a different way.
  • Why do I need to receive an issue email notification if the only thing I can do is to redirect it to somebody else to fix it?

I’m sure you get the point. Instead of automating it try to reduce it. Btw these questions are but examples not a tool. In each different situation they have to be different and you have to find a proper one.