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E-Mail Overload: Why E-Mail is like Oil

Saturday, October 22, 2011 by Slaughter Development

Once again Slaughter Development’s founder tackled the topic of email. This time however, he utilized a simple analogy to demonstrate the powerful effects it has on business productivity: E-mail is like oil: indispensable if used right; despicable if used wrong.

Over at the SquawkPoint blog, they like to talk about process improvement just about as much as we do. So needless to say, it was quite a pleasure when Robby Slaughter was asked to pass along his perspective on email to their followers. In his blog post, Why E-mail is Like Oil, Slaughter points out just how similar email and oil actually are when it comes to keeping our lives efficient. And while the two tools differ greatly in use and execution, inevitably they both work toward the same thing—power delivery.

According to Slaughter, there are three aspects between email and oil that can make or break the actual benefits we receive from them. Originally listed in his post, the points are below for your convenience:

There’s great wisdom in thinking about the way you maintain lubrication in your car and facilitate coordination in your office:

  • First: the total quantity of oil/e-mail must be carefully maintained.  Not enough and the parts and pieces mash together, creating tension. Too much and the stuff overflows and you spend more time cleaning up than making progress.
  • Second, both e-mail and oil work well when they are applied in thin layers between the junctions of moving pieces. Oil droplets and e-mail messages work best when they are nearly microscopic. If you’re writing a message that goes on for more than a few sentences or tries to cover more than one topic, you’ll gum up the works.
  • Third, e-mail and oil both need to be expunged and replaced.  Mechanics recommend 3,000 miles for the typical car engine.  I advise about one day for the typical e-mail inbox.  You should be processing your email down to zero messages almost every day.  Use the “offline mode” of your e-mail program to prevent more messages from coming in while you’re draining out those that are in the system.  Clean out the pipes and make way for fresh content!

Ultimately, if used correctly, email can enhance your business processes greatly. If over used or left unmaintained, the effects can feel as messy and chaotic as an oil spill. And that is why we encourage businesses and stakeholders to take action in proactively managing their inbox. If you and your team are looking to learn more about email productivity, consider signing up for A New Perspective on Email, one of our many diverse Productivity Short Talks.

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