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5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Email to Manage Work

by Emily Esposito

“You’ve got mail!”

Remember when the little ding and the automated voice alerting you of new messages made you run to your computer, excited to read emails? Back then, a new email was probably from a friend or family member, and it was somewhat of a special occasion to receive one and write back.

How things have changed. Today, we get hundreds of emails a week, from promotions to sales pitches to newsletters. And, on top of all that, email seems to be the new form of communication at the workplace, with colleagues and bosses emailing about every single thing (rather than walking up to you and asking). Now, it would really be a special occasion if we didn’t receive any email at work. 

27 Days per Year Spent on Inbox Management

Managing our inbox has taken over our actual jobs. Employees spend about 28% of their day interacting with their email accounts, the most time of any daily activity in the workplace, according to a 2012 study by McKinsey Global Institute. And, office workers spend an average of 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails. That adds up to 27 days per year spent solely on inbox management.

The worst part is that all this time emailing isn’t actually doing any good. In fact, it is making us work less efficiently, communicate less clearly, and waste more time finding valuable information.

Not convinced? Well, peel your eyes away from your inbox and read these five downsides of using email for managing work. 

1. Endless Threads Bury Information and Cause Confusion

The dreaded “re: re: re: re” in the subject line never signifies simple. Email threads can be cumbersome and annoying, especially with a large number of replies or when the conversation drifts off topic, making it difficult to pinpoint the purpose of the original message.

According to IDC, the average worker spends 15-30% of his/her time just looking for information. With endless threads pushing attachments further down the chain, the only way to find what you need may be to read through side conversations and one-word replies.

2. Text-Only Messages Lead to Misinterpretation

Words alone account for 7% of communication. Through email, we lose 93% of intended communication due to lack of body language, facial expressions, intonation, and more. Not only is more time wasted attempting to interpret an email, but the recipient may just not understand the request or call to action, causing missed deadlines and tasks to fall through the cracks. 

3. No Central Location for Work

Email was meant for talking, not for creating an endless tangle of folders and labels to try and organize work. But, what ends up happening is different people own bits and pieces of the big picture. Tasks, conversations, and information are scattered between inboxes, apps, attachments, chats, and in-person meetings. 

Lindsay Talbot, associate producer of Animation Mentor, experienced the same issue. “We were spending so much time struggling to find the specifics of what we needed or copying and pasting information between emails.”

4. Numerous Attachments Make it Hard to Stay In Sync 

Who can keep track of a file when it’s being sent around to multiple people for edits, review, and approval? How do you know which attachment is the most up to date, and who still needs to make changes? 

Attempting to collaborate via email will only result in a major headache. If one person forgets to email some edits, a whole team could be out of the loop. If you need an older version of the document, it means digging through a sea of messages and attachments to find the right version. And, the file you’re working on must be constantly synced with everyone else’s version.

“Details were never where you thought they were,” said Martin Stever, president of Pacific West Land

5. Lack of Unified Truth

Each department holds its own truths -- statistics, important documents, files, comments, etc. Oftentimes, this important information can stay siloed in an organization and other employees can’t have access to it without making a formal request, which takes time. Because there is no central location for work, employees turn to email to find and ask for what they need (adding yet more messages to your inbox).

A Smarter Alternative to Email

Is it ever appropriate to use email? Of course. We’re not telling you to delete your email address and never send a message again. But, if you’re relying on email to manage projects, collaborate on files, and assign tasks, you will only make your life harder. 

So, what is the right way to manage work? Here is what you should look for:

  • The ability for all participants to see and edit files in real time. 
  • A centralized location for notes, comments, and files to access at any time, on any device.
  • The flexibility to integrate with other apps you use, like Google Apps, Salesforce, DropBox, or Evernote.
  • The power to set alerts and reminders to stay up to date as deadlines approach or as changes are made.

The One Email You Should Send  

After reading this post, there is one email you should send. It should be to invite your colleagues to join you in signing up for a free trial of Smartsheet, and to see how much time you could save by moving your work out of your inbox.