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Email is not your friend, Visualized.

By November 13, 2016April 5th, 2017Systems Thinking
Visual Analysis of Typical Email Exchange

Let’s assume for a moment that you have a finite amount of mental bandwidth and that every piece of visual information that you have to process uses up some of that bandwidth. Here’s just one way that email robs you blind without you even realizing it.

To illustrate, I took a 7 email exchange with a colleague and dissected the information. The exchange went like this:

  1. I emailed a colleague with a simple request.
  2. He responded with a question.
  3. I replied with an answer.
  4. He emailed a 3rd person for clarification.
  5. He forwarded the 3rd person’s response to me with a question.
  6. I replied with an answer.
  7. He confirmed, and closed the thread.

I looked at this email exchange and highlighted all the new information, the redundant information, the sub-thread information and the completely worthless information. For all the text in the exchange, there were about 9 or 10 short sentences (6.81%) worth anything at all, out of the pages and pages of content.

The rest was either:

  • Redundant (17%) – when I reply to an email it (typically) includes the original email, over and over.
  • Sub-thread (7%) – content from a forwarded thread.
  • Worthless (69%) – just pure distraction, email signatures, disclaimers, greetings, etc.

Going back to the original assumption that your visual and mental bandwidth is finite – what happened is that a simple information exchange turned out to steal precious time and mental energy without me even noticing it.

Sure, you aren’t reading all the garbage that comes with emails like signatures and disclaimers but it’s there and your brain has to discern relevance or irrelevance. It’s like a filing system where 95% of the information is meaningless. Super helpful.

Now, would you consider that an efficient means of communication? A great tool for project management? A killer filing system?

The point of this post isn’t to tell you to stop using email. Not at all. The point is that, like certain family members at Thanksgiving, it comes with a lot of baggage.

In many cases it’s the right tool for the job but: It’s not a project management system. It’s not a filing system. It is most certainly not your friend.

In upcoming posts I’ll talk about strategically replacing email in your workflow, improving gmail productivity, and systems for managing communication and organizing information.

P.S. – Feel free to email me at [email protected] with any questions! HA


Email Exchange Mapped

Drag the red line left and right to see how I mapped the email according to the type of content. Green = Useful information, Orange = Redundant, Red = Sub-threaded, Grey = Worthless.

Michael Trezza

Michael Trezza is the CEO and founder of Lithyem. Since 1999, Michael has been solving complex technology challenges for some of the world's greatest brands. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.