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The Wrong Way To Use E-mail

By on May 14, 2011No Comment

My epiphany about email overload came in 1999 while working at BT (the UK’s incumbent phone company). I was in my mid-thirties, stuck my head above the parapet in the midst of a very political ongoing internal battle and emerged somehow covered in glory and got promoted almost immediately, suddenly with over 100 people merged from different departments. One of the teams I inherited was a group of half a dozen regulatory analysts who weren’t even facing off to the external regulator – they faced off to the team in BT that dealt with the regulator. All they did was come to work each day and do their email. They took minute aspects of UK and European regulation and then held discussions over email, copying each other – as the new boss, I was copied in on these things. It was a new area for me and I had no idea what was important and what wasn’t. I printed one of these out and it ran to 14 pages in size 10 font. Threads crossed over eachother and it was a nightmare. It was my wake-up call that we had a communications technology that was being used in a way that made it harder for people to communicate.

Eventually, I managed to do away with the team but not before I put in place an email charter that included, among many other items, how not to use email for complex debates. I persuaded my boss to roll it out across the whole division. People asked me for that Charter for years after that. It’s pretty much the same one I use in my book, on my website and in a talk I’m giving tonight to promote the book. I also got two clients to implement a similar charter in recent weeks.


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