More on Email Filter Failure

I found an updated blog post (the original is from 2 years ago – just shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same) from David Allen of “Getting Things Done” called “The Problem is not Information Overload“. He makes a similar point as Clay Shirky, though using different terminology. His main point isn’t the fact that there is a lot of information available – but rather the fact that not all emails are equally important and the feeling of being overwhelmed is caused by “One simple reason: each one of those e-mails might mean something. “. The stress is caused by the need to determine which are actually important.

He is right about that – but that isn’t the whole problem. Another, related, problem is that business emails often are part of a long running unstructured human process and have a context to them – e.g. previous emails, documents – which need to be pieced together in to a coherent picture of the current state of the process. That is the second reason that people feel overwhelmed by email. As I wrote in my eariler post, business class email can help with the first issue – essentially defining a class of email (what we call ActionMail here at ActionBase) that really is important.

We address the second issue by making sure that all the emails and documents relevant to a specific process are linked together (Google Wave does something very similar) into a single process (or conversation ala Google). That is very different than just maintaining the request-response sequence of the email (which some email systems support) since the linkage is based on relevance as determined by the participants, rather then just request-response (which is only one factor in determining relevance). Doing it this way makes sure that all the information that the participants in the process think is relevant is linked together and shared by all – removing the second cause of the feelings of email overload.

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