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The Last Word: Emails, We Get Emails

May 14, 2012
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Pop quiz time: Is it possible to get 1,000 emails a day?

The simple answer is, sure. But the tougher answer actually comes in the form of a question (thank you, Alex Trebek): If 1,000 emails poured into your inbox over the past 24 hours, would you have the time and energy to open and coherently respond to all of them?

There has been a lot of chatter lately about the clutter email adds to our professional and personal lives. Some say the torrent of emails is merely an annoying distraction, a product of life in the 21st century workplace; others contend an overflowing inbox is downright unhealthy.

A recent BlackBerry ad featuring Meridith Valiando, a former record-label executive whose new company DigiTour Media recently launched the inaugural nationwide tour of YouTube online musical sensations, unwittingly may have set the new gold standard for email overload. As she rattles on about the efficiencies of her phone, Valiando, in passing, admits that she receives "somewhere around a thousand emails a day," then confides, "try writing a thousand emails on a touch screen."

While Valiando's choice of phone didn't grab my attention, her assertion of an inbox bursting with 1,000 emails certainly did. A thousand emails a day? I moan as loud as anyone about today's email onslaught. It's locksure that a quick trip to the office kitchen for a cup of coffee yields a dozen new messages upon my return. Every morning I know what awaits me as the computer fires up, and it brings a sense of dread: There, inevitably, is a screen full of emails that must be dealt with.

After hearing Valiando's claim of 1,000 emails a day—that's what, an email about every 90 seconds during a 24-hour cycle?—I decided to check my email intake for a typical day.

I answer to three email accounts on a regular basis: my standard work email account, rbell@workforce.com, our general inbox, editors@workforce.com, and my personal email. So I tallied up these three accounts to see how my email volume ranks next to Valiando's claim of 1,000 per day.

I chose Thursday, April 26, as my day. And here was the final count: rbell@workforce.com—193 emails; junk mail to that account (yes, I do check my junk mail): 18 emails; editors@workforce.com yielded 42 messages; and my personal account contained 12 emails (love the offers for cheap trips to Cabo San Lucas). Rick Bell's totally arbitrary single-day email tally: 265.

So, is it over-the-top advertising hype on the part of BlackBerry and Valiando to assert that she deals with 1,000 emails a day? If we are talking purely emails, maybe. But let's also consider other forms of paperless communications in 2012.

I have at least 20 daily conversations via some form of instant messenger. Some of the talks are quick question-and-answer. Others could be 20 to 30 back-and-forth responses. Then there are text messages from family, friends and colleagues. Admittedly, my texting skews way on the low side with maybe 10 a day (welcome to my horribly dull personal and professional life).

We maintain a Yammer account for our internal staff, I monitor and occasionally participate in our online Workforce Discussion Forum, and I update our Facebook site and two Twitter accounts. So on a really heavy day I am potentially dealing with 500 to 600 individual communications. Oh, believe it or not, I still get snail mail. And phone calls. Remember those?

Not surprisingly, with 1,000 emails daily, Valiando also asserts that she is constantly on the phone. Such 24/7 reliance on a device doesn't seem particularly healthy to me, but the bigger picture is that breaking point where the onslaught of external communications simply saps our ability to contemplate these messages—written and verbal. Spending just a little time mulling these messages inevitably helps our business with more well-rounded ideas and better personal output.

If a BlackBerry offers Valiando the opportunity to balance work and life as she wades through 1,000 emails a day, then sign me up for her digital nirvana.

I have a tough enough time with 265 emails a day on a laptop.

Rick Bell is Workforce Management's managing editor. Comment below or email rbell@workforce.com.

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