Inbox Productivity

According to McKinsey28% of the average work week is spent reading and answering work emails. Based on a typical 40-hour schedule, that’s 11.2 hours per week, or 560 hours each year.

When you talk about email, you may be refering to Personal Information Management (PIM) that combine your email, data storage in folders, calendar and task management system. This is the case of solutions offered by Google email or Microsoft Outlook.

IT company are very demanding on agility and good time-to-maket. Exploring world and experience on big agile projects with distributed teams no collocated we could learn a lot about communication. Workers on IT companies are becoming more and more knowmads (Knowledge nomads). And as teams are becoming more global, one prediction says that by 2020, more than half of the employees will work remotely. Another stat says that over a third of the American population does some contract work, either as a full-time job or as a part of a contract.

How to Calculate Communication Channels? This doesn’t seem like a question that actually needs an entire blog for an answer. This can just be done by applying a simple formula n (n-1) /2. So for an specific product/project/need from company with 100 stakeholders involved, it might have 4950 channels.

After 5 years of analysing my email habits, I can handle more than 200 email received per day but I struggle to send more than 40 emails daily with meaningful input. So I need to think really carefully about communication and priorize my work.

How many channels do I need? How many of them (synchronous – face to face, call, videoconf -, asynchronous – email, video recording, general channels like hangouts, slack, yammer) are best to use?

Purpose of this introduction is to think a step before the email productivy issue. Why do I receive so many emails? Is missing to set a general communication channel?
Second concern is about email response karma. The more you respond, the more email you will receive. If there is no clear process defined for a specific workflow, by replying email, you will become the process.

This and other topics about organisation scalation is widely analysized and there is so much about this on Sociocracy 3.0. Even thought this concept does not introduct tools to use, it creates an environment to react easily to governance change at any scale. Circles can subscribe / unscribe to topics by relevance and needs depending on involvement at any moment. Elections can determine whether you become part of consent decision making or other governance ways. So definetely channels and possibility to subscribe / unsubscribe are relevant.

Once clarified about need of analysing what is happending on the flows underlying behind email streams. Let’s think on email aikido.

Email prioritisation

By prioritizing better, you’ll be addressing your most important emails first and consequently dedicating more attention to them. This typically means having to slog through all of the less critical messages or (worse!) the junk email to figure out which messages are most important. So email screening is a task that needs to be perform regularly. To simplify this task there are different ways:

  • unsuscribe from unnecessary email – if you get unwanted or low importance email out of your inbox, it makes it easier to both prioritize and spend less time on email.
  • usage of automatic rules to archive, mark as read, move to folders in which you process information that is not adding any value to you at the moment: meeting request acceptance, room booking confirmation, or even apply colors or marks to group of emails depending on subject, sender, etc.

Once you have what needs to be read in front of you Eisenhower’s decision matrix, GTD, Inbox zero or other mechanisms will help you determine what is critical / urgent to reply and what not. Risk on not managing an email with low impact on cost / delay can be accepted. If you have also your regular meeting system, one to one’s, follow up properly set, you could determine which is the forum to use, the person to talk to and the time to do it. Also groups of email could be handled by a proposal / flow that is missing.


When replying, think about your capacity to influence and level of solution you are requested to act. Giving space for delegation and solution analysis is important.

Detail on what you need and when is important also, this will also avoid tons of emails. Sometimes, email are used as meeting / kickoffs replacement when this is not effective. Understanding in which step a flow is, and best practices to cover those stepts related to communication are crucial to avoid missalignment and need for more and more clarification.

Curiously the more time you provide for a topic to be analysed, the more unproductive the topic could become. Because of unecessary alternative exploration, unfocused approach.

Hope this article gives a bit more of perspective about communication. The way you manage your email, says a lot on type of professional you are.


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