Productivity and engagement killer: Mobile e-mail.

Checking Your EMail At Night Is Terrible For Ideas

Stop and think about this for one second, and try to follow this bouncing ball:

  • A lot of people (probably a majority) do check their e-mail at off-hours, i.e. night-time at home.
  • When they’re doing that, a subsequent large number are probably doing it via their phones.
  • They may respond to a few — usually from people above them, if I had to guess — but mostly they’re just scanning and “checking for fires.”
  • Those e-mails, though, are now marked as read.
  • When that person comes to work tomorrow morning and deals with his/her laptop/desktop, those e-mails will seem like old news — here’s a new batch to deal with, so I better get started on those…
  • Those “read” e-mails from the previous night, especially if they’re from people down the chain, will become less of a conscious element.
  • (Remember: humans can only hold about seven things in their memory at a given time.)
  • This is a problem.

Why is this a problem?

  • People e-mail ideas and concepts at different times of day — either when they’re available to do so, or when they think the reader might have the greatest chance of opening it, reading it, internalizing it, etc.
  • For example, tomorrow and this week I want to send a few “pitches” out to write for some external places. I’m breathlessly analyzing when I should send these e-mails. In reality, no one knows. You could send a 9am Monday morning e-mail and get a response, or send a 4pm Thursday e-mail and never hear back. It’s a crapshoot.
  • This mobile-back-to-the-office thing is a mess, though. E-mails sent at night and hastily looked at/responded to won’t stay in consciousness for that long.
  • If those e-mails contained a great idea or a productive hack or even involved an employee asking for something akin to engagement/feedback, that dog doesn’t hunt.

In this way, mobile — and the ability to e-mail pretty much wherever and whenever — made our lives so easy, but at the same time they made our lives go down a path where it’s really easy to totally miss great ideas or engagement concepts. Rather than a totally functional organization, we’ve created an organization that’s largely based on when someone received an e-mail and how important that e-mail seemed to that person at that time. Since hierarchy dictates a lot of that — “Well, I’ve gotta answer e-mails from my boss!” — we’ve created a top-down crapshoot because of our reliance on mobile to “be on the grid at all times.”

Anyone else feel this way?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. In addition to the problems you’ve discussed in terms of consciously keeping the ideas in your head I think mobile email is doing a toll on work-life balance. It’s almost a double negative because we don’t give 100% to the email or to what we are doing at home.

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