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Email Overload Can be a Good Thing, Too

Posted by: Jena McGregor on June 30, 2008

There’s a smart post over at the Harvard Business Review’s Editors’ Blog about email overload, and whether it’s really as bad of a thing as everyone’s talking about. Editor Paul Hemp talks to Anne Mulcahy, who says that while email overload is one of her biggest pain points, it’s also crucial to managing her organization. People are more willing to put things down in email that they might not say to her, and therefore it’s critical that the use of email is not discouraged.

Mulcahy is right: People do put things in an email as a fast and convenient way to send news that might be painful or cumbersome to communicate otherwise. Email famously sends many a CYA message. It’s a record, a document, that something is communicated. While she’s facing reality—this is how people are going to communicate, no matter what, so don’t discourage its use. But it’s also important not to let such communication get out of hand. Encouraging an open-door communication environment, when there are other ways people are urged to share bad news, will help insure that very bad news doesn’t get lost in the inbox.

Reader Comments

Wally Bock

June 30, 2008 4:17 PM

Nice post, Jena, but a bit misleading, methinks. It's not email overload that's good, it's the communication that email can provide. If you're getting too much email, you get X options. You can discourage email and all communication. You can shift some email to other forms of communication like voicemail. Or you can increase your capacity to deal with the email you get by couple a work standard with increased time to handle the email. All of those options have trade offs.

Arthur Lo

July 17, 2008 2:55 PM

Before - "Email" is the best tool to communicate electronically for personal and business

Now - Email is mostly used for Marketing and Promotion

This leaves us with no alternative tools to stay productive

1-2 hours a day is spent going through the Inbox

Until -


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