An email tax

It’s pretty well-established that we have an email free rider problem.  Since there’s essentially no marginal cost for each additional person I email….voilà, SPAM represents more than 90% of all email sent.

But what about inside your organization?  I suspect you have a lot of email threads involving a back-and-forth conversation with 8 people copied.

What if you had to do the math?  30 seconds to read an email, another 30 to think about it and maybe respond x 8 people = 8 minutes of organizational time spent.

On average the people copied on your email earn $0.50 – $1.00 per minute (some more, some less, but let’s keep the math simple…and never mind that everyone’s supposed to be producing much more than they cost the company).  So each time you Reply All, even if just to say, “Thanks, Cary,” or “This will be great!” it’s cost the organization $8.  That doesn’t sound too terrible until you figure 50-150 emails/day/person in your organization…thousands and thousands of dollars per person per year because we’re lazily copying people.

Plus all the time people spend wading through emails instead of thinking.

Some ideas:

  1. Disable the “Reply All” button for emails
  2. Or if that’s too technical to implement, create norms that makes replying all unacceptable
  3. When a chain gets going, after the second note it’s someone’s job to write the group and say, “We’re taking this offline, I’ll update everyone on where we ended up.”
  4. Reply All and type “Remove me”.  Short term this increases email traffic, but pretty soon people will start thinking twice.
  5. Create an email tax: charge people $0.25 for each reply all, with a 3x match by the company ($1 total per Reply All).  Give the money away to a charity, and have a “Reply All” volunteer day to boot.  Everyone wins.
  6. Pick up the phone instead.

There are some conversations that whole groups need to follow by email, but not nearly as many as we think.  Make it cost something to send to everyone, and you’ll have more time left to do…just about anything.

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2 Responses to An email tax

  1. John Tucker says:

    It’s important to have a culture where people can feel comfortable asking large groups for ideas or answers to a question (like, the whole company). When you’re spread out over lots of different groups in lots of different places, this may (sadly) be a primary mode of community building.

    The extent to which email is equated with productivity is obscene. My favorite email tricks are a) receive once an hour to reduce the addictive interruptions to focused work and b) not checking email first thing in the morning (to psychologically separate “urgent” from “important”) and c) filtering all messages on which I was not listed in the To or CC line to a bulk folder since they are not direct requests requiring my action.

  2. Sasha says:

    John, thanks for your comment. I agree there needs to be openness to asking questions of the whole company in certain cases.

    On the flip side, I think it would be interesting in most cases if people asked themselves before sending any email, “What’s the fewest number of people that can receive this note” and to make it culturally acceptable and rewarded to take people OFF an email thread…as a way of respecting their time without having the implied, “You’re not part of this conversation.”

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