How to choose: Email, voice mail, or carrier pigeon?

Ayende posted how he has some 80+ unread and starred email messages waiting for him after a busy workweek. Reading this reminded me of a situation I ran into in the mid-1990s, while working in the IT group for a multinational bank. I went away for a little over a week, and I came back to find over 200 unread messages in my inbox. (This was before Blackberries and ubiquitous webmail.)

Reading through some 200 emails would have taken quite some time (even longer considering they used Lotus Notes), so I decided to take an alternate approach: I deleted them all.

Did I commit a grave error, deleting that all-important urgent email from a busy executive who needed to communicate something important to me? No, I did not. If something was that important, it would have been communicated to me via voice mail, or would have been redirected to one of my coworkers.

Granted, this may not be the best approach in all situations, but it illustrates some things we must recognize in a modern world.

  • Do not assume timely response to email. If something is urgent, you should always call someone. Never assume an email will be responded to in any timeframe, even if it has in the past: past performance does not predict future results.
  • Send a voice mail notice when sending important emails. If you have to send an email to communicate important information, call the person (leaving a voice mail message if necessary) notifying the person of the email.
  • Do not assume timely response to voice mail. Not everyone checks their voice mail regularly, so don’t assume your message will be heard any time soon.

Wait a minute — if we can’t rely on voice mail or email for timely communication, what can we do? Nothing, really. There will never be a convenient, reliable replacement for direct person-to-person communication. In my own life, I am trying to reduce my reliance on email and go back to traditional forms of communication (i.e. the spoken word, from my mouth to your ears). Email is convenient, but direct interpersonal communication (even if over the wire) is much more rewarding, interactive, interesting, and effective.

And remember… some people may seem to always be connected to the grid — via their Blackberry, Treo, web mail, text messages, mobile phone, or whatever. Just remember: batteries die, networks go down, service is not available everywhere, people forget to carry devices with them…

0 thoughts on “How to choose: Email, voice mail, or carrier pigeon?

  • That is what I do to keep my inbox clean.

    I have this structure:
    –>A couple of project folders

    Everything that I think I will need at some point, I shove in the archive folder (or if it is directly related to a project I am working on I put in that folder, or a online receipt goes in the receipt folder).

    Then I rely on the all mighty magical technology called search (specifically Spotlight since I am a Mac user, but Google Desktop or any other desktop search works too) to find stuff in my archive folder.

    Works slick and is much less stressful when my inbox has 2 messages in it instead of 1000.

  • I use GMail for everything. Unread flags and stars and labels are the most wondrous creations. Makes Outlook look like a poorly thought out toy. 😉

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