Ahh for those long-gone days when we could commiserate with each other about the volume of email in our inbox, the sheer number of cc and bcc pings per day.  This isn’t a rant about email per se but about corporate cultures which allow, and in some cases encourage, destructive multi-tasking.  I’m talking about the expectation that I can respond to your email, substantively, while in a meeting on another project.  I’m talking about a culture where being involved in a demanding project, on a deadline, or in a meeting is not reason enough to not down all tools to respond to whatever you want me to do this instant. I’m talking about a culture where I will spend precious time trying to make you understand why I don’t have time to get to your needs ahead of all others.

In most of these corporate cultures, one individual’s attempt to inject some prioritization and rationalization into the multi-tasking expectation, is often a career limiting move. That is why a change in the prevailing attitudes must come from the top and must be modeled and sanctioned as part of the organization’s values.  It is like boiling the ocean, trying to wean people off their unhealthy reliance on, and expectations of, email and other interruptive technologies.  But it has to be done. Some companies have tried various ways to free their people, even briefly, from the yoke of competing demands, whether it’s email free Fridays or encouraging people to get out of the chair and speak to the colleague mere metres away rather than emailing them a cryptic message requiring a clarifying response and so on….

There is a very good chance that you are spending upwards of 25% of your time dealing with email.  Take your annual salary and divide it by the proportion of your email that actually is productive, and you will be shocked at what is being flushed away from your output and concentration.

Most of us who allow the message notification icon to alert us to new mail, are interrupted every 3 minutes and it can take 20 minutes to get back on task.  By now we all get this and have devised coping strategies such as turning off the notifications until such time as your own work flow permits you a chance to look at what other people think your priorities should be.

This is all self defeating, however, if your organization allows individuals to be interrupted by other individuals who feel their needs are more pressing.