Are You Part of the Email Problem?

Over-reliance on email as a communication tool is sapping people of their time and energy, says author, speaker, and consultant Phil Simon. Fortunately, there are better ways to do things.

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“If we email each other three times over the same issue, it’s time for one of us to pick up the phone.”

That sentence is posted at author and consultant Phil Simon’s website, on his page “Working With Me.” Simon also adds, at his website, “If you will only communicate by email, then probably we shouldn’t work together. Don’t get me wrong. Email is fine. I send many messages every day. But it’s only one form of communication; it is not the only one.”

Over-reliance on email is one of Simon’s pet peeves — so much so that he devotes much of his new book, Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It (Wiley, 2015), to it.

Email is a terrifically useful tool, but it suffers from significant limitations. “People already use email as a catch-all for personal communications, business communications, de facto project management, task management,” says Simon. It’s past time, he maintains, for businesses to shift many of those jobs out of email and into complementary tools such as Dropbox, Asana, Basecamp, HipChat, Jive, Yammer, and Slack. The result, he says, will be much better communication and far less wasted time.

Simon talked with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, an associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Social Business Big Idea Initiative, about how organizations can cut back on email and its evil business communication twin, jargon.

Your new book is about what’s wrong with business communication and what companies can do to fix it. What is wrong with business communication today?

At a high level, there are two problems. Number one: we send far too much email. Number two: we use far too much jargon. That’s the book in a nutshell.

Let’s address the first issue. Email is killing us. Many employees receive 150 emails every day and those emails are frequently rife with jargon. It’s a pernicious combination. As such, employees are very unlikely to achieve what we’re trying to achieve on time. As my research uncovered, most employees are swamped with information and email.

Fortunately, change is well within our grasp. If I can improve my own skills, then anyone can. In the book, I cover my own communications journey.


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michael einstein
Just found this article through a google search I run each day for e-mail and information overload articles, and I agree with your points and ideas.  I actually have your book on my "to read" list and hope to get to it this summer.  Sounds like you have wrestled with the same communication issues being experienced by many in the business world.

E-Mail has grown to become the dominant and preferred mode of business communication because it is effective, efficient, fast, and accurate. It supports the virtualization of business activities and telecommuting, and many types of business activities, including collaborative projects with those in different time zones, are made possible through the use of e-mail. 

In addition, the capabilities of the e-mail system have grown substantially over the past several decades, and it is now used for many purposes beyond just messaging, including organizing information, scheduling events, contact management, virtual conversations, decision making, prioritizing, and managing and delegating tasks.  

Employees (and students) are spending larger and larger portions of their day processing e-mail. In many cases, business users receive 100 (or more) messages a day, and can spend 2 to 3 hours a day on e-mail related activities. And research has identified negative impacts from the constant interruptions of processing high-volumes of e-mail, including professional and personal stress. Work also has been found to become “fragmented”, resulting in lower productivity, errors, omissions, and reduced decision making abilities.

For e-mail, the key strategies to deal with e-mail overload fall into three broad groups: organizational, technological, and behavioral. 

Organizational approaches to reducing e-mail overload incorporate the use of corporate guidelines or acceptable use policies as a way to set organizational-wide rules around the appropriate, and inappropriate, use of e-mail. These approaches are also referred to as “e-mail etiquette” and focus on teaching people to “use e-mail more appropriately”. 

Technological approaches to reducing e-mail overload leverage specific features and functionality in the e-mail system itself as ways to reduce e-mail overload. The goal is on making people “use e-mail more efficiently”. 

Behavioral approaches to reducing e-mail overload focus on improving the knowledge, actions, and behavior of the individual senders and recipients. These approaches focus on teaching people to “use e-mail more effectively”. 

Research has found that in order to make the greatest improvements in your e-mail skills and the largest reduction in your e-mail overload, you must focus on elements in all three areas (Organizational, Technological, and Behavioral) in order to be truly successful. 

I recently launched a new website:

as a way to share my knowledge and passion on e-mail overload, its sources, and potential solutions.  Please feel free to check it out for more ideas on this topic.

Best Regards,

Dr. Michael Einstein