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Jeff Atwood has a longish post on the problems with email. Of course, the biggest problem with email is there's way too much of it. I used to try to respond to each (non-spam) email I got but now I can't keep up. Unfortunately, I can't let each email commit me to spend time.
Jeff references Tantek Çelik's excellent post on the subject and gives three pieces of advice:
- Channel that private email effort into a public outlet. Discussion boards, blog entries, comments, wikis, you name it. If it can be indexed by a web search engine, you're in the right place -- and many more people can potentially find, answer, and benefit from that information.
- If you must send email, make it as short as possible. Think of it as Strunk and White on speed. Can you reduce your email into a single paragraph? How about two sentences? How about just the title field with no body, even?
- Remember the theory of communication escalation. Email is just one communication tool in our toolkit; that doesn't mean it is always the right one for whatever situation is at hand. Take advantage of phone calls, instant messaging, text messages, and so forth, as appropriate. Scale your choice of communication method to the type of conversation you're having, and don't be afraid to escalate it (or demote it!) as the ebb and flow of the conversation shifts.
There are all kinds of ideas on how to effectively manage email and that's all well and good, but ultimately someone else (actually lots of someone else's) control how much is there. Any kind of management is going to fail as email volume grows.