Mail stress.

Click for full size image I started typing this blog post at 07:21. Outlook has already received the first 50 items of the day. Most of which were from night-owls in the US, a few from Asia/Pacific, and only a couple from European insomniacs. Yesterday it pulled down at least 426. I know this because yesterday I set up 3 new search folders. I'm not 100% sure when search folders came into Outlook - and which version of Exchange they need behind them, but they're a useful feature - particularly for the "where are all the huge mails which are taking me over my quota" and the like. A few weeks ago Microsoft IT doubled the size of my mailbox so I've got a huge deleted Items folder at the moment - 8000+ items. But that means the except for items which I "shift deleted", all my mail is in still there somewhere. 2026 from last week 1139 since Monday of this week.

This is ridiculous. I am up at 7 in the morning to do mail. I sent a mail at 0:05 this morning. And this is not just a "Look at how hard I have to work post". The modern working environment is doing this to lots of people - the problem is worse than average at Microsoft, but it's not confined to us either.

In an 8 hour day there are 480 working minutes. If I just did mail for those 480 minutes each of those messages would have had 68 seconds. That's 68 seconds to read and action it if I did nothing else all day. I'm not a slow reader, and many of those mails can't be read in 68 seconds. For quite a large percentage I can't work out what the person sending them actually wants to happen as a result with 68 seconds...

What does all this mean...

  • Mail makes mediocre meeting manners. Eileen tries to ban laptops from meetings. But how many times do I go to a two hour meeting and find everyone has their laptop open and is trying to multi-task doing mail ? Why ? Because at peak times of the day when you get back to your desk after 2 hours there can be 100 new messages. If you can delete the junk and deal with the ones which are read and file/forward/or reply with one word - leaving the "go-back-to" ones for later - the classic triage - then you're no so behind when you get back. (Of course the meeting wouldn't be two hours if people could actually express themselves clearly, and not just vomit everything into Powerpoint, but that's another story).
  • Mail mountains mean missed matters. I've had several incidents recently of missing something and having someone plaintively cry "But I sent you a mail about it 2 weeks ago" . This will get the reply. "I've had over 4,000 mails since then. What made you think yours would be remembered ?"
  • Ballooning Bystander syndrome. Mail a big enough group of people and everyone will assume that someone else will do it. Eileen recently had had cause to grumble that none of our team had volunteered to contribute at an event. The organizer had sent a diary placeholder to a huge group. She didn't ask for help. If it had occurred to anyone that speakers and so on were needed they probably thought someone else would volunteer: that's the Bystander effect.
  • Selfish Senders Suffer Silence. This is linked to the bystander effect and is actually a bit childish: if you don't ask nicely I won't help you. The classic "selfish sender" in Microsoft is one who mails to technical Discussion lists. "Here is a screen shot / log file of my problem , please tell me how to fix it " . No explanation of what was done, and no text description "It said Error 4096 had occurred - there are no fettlable widgets in this container". Mail clients on phones usually don't download bitmaps, and Outlook Voice Access can't process them. Blind readers can't with screen reading software can't read them either. I can only answer the question if I'm at my PC. If I'm somewhere else.. [DELETE]. So if the message is archived, it won't be found if someone searches for the error in future.  Not the people who send these messages would check an archive anyway, but the next person to hit the problem will have no choice but mail their question out to the whole list. Those mails get the [SHIFT]-[DELETE] treatment (I don't even keep them in deleted items.).

Next week I'm presenting on "Microsoft's vision for unified communications" and I'm sure some of these will creep in. And the mail count for this morning is now past 100.

Update It's 22:44. 15 hours into my day.  8 hour work days belong in fairy stories. Message number 407 of the day just arrived. Chillingly, George sent two mails at 21:22 and 21:31 - the latter had a reply within 6 minutes (from a UK person) and the former has grown into a 5 message thread (again all UK people).

Comments (1)
  1. Jonathan Medd says:

    Fascinating and amusing post!

    Another horror story which seems to have really become prevalent this year is we see a lot of people who daily access their email whilst on holiday because they can’t face coming back to hundreds of emails after a couple of weeks off and having to waste 2 days clearing it out before actually getting back into some useful work. This surely defeats the object of having a holiday.

    It would be great if the Out Of Office feature could prompt you as you hit the send button with something like ‘this person is away, do you really want to send them this message?’ rather than tell you after you have sent it that they are away.

    Fortunately I’m not plagued by anywhere near the amount of email you receive, however I still make extensive use of Outlook rules to filter out stuff I know I won’t want / need to read. (Not sure if you use them much because its not touched on in the post?)

    Typically we recieve stuff in the following categories and I have rules which dump them straight in the bin so I never even see them.

    * – Group wide job vacancies reminder every week – If I want to look at the vacanices list I’ll just do it, I don’t need to be reminded every week that it exists.

    * – Updates to company policies (almost daily!). Again if I need one, I just go grab it off the Intranet, I don’t need to know it has had a minor update.

    * – Subjects like No Milk Today / the lift isn’t working / Parking / etc

    On thing I thought has always been missing from Exchange (maybe its possible in 2007) is a subscription / RSS Feed type scenario where you actively sign up for receiving these kind of messages if you want them, they’re not rammed down your throat whether you want them or not.

    I have another rule for emails where I’m CC’d which get moved to a review type folder that I can quickly scan through and typically do not need to reply to.

    Consequently I have one of the cleanest mailboxes amongst colleagues without even actioning anything.

    Another slightly off the wall tack I have taken with rules is to play different sounds when mail arrives from certain people (volume is low so I don’t annoy those around me). Whilst this started out as a joke on a slow day, it can sometimes prove quite useful when the ‘Aaaah  Boogeyman’ wav file kicks in; I know something needs actioning pretty quickly because its that particular person, even if I am not looking at Outlook. 🙂

    (PS Search folders appeared with Outlook 2003 and Exchange 2003)

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content