Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Email – the ‘task-courier’ & devil

My last two blogs focused on a subject very close to my heart: personal effectiveness, especially at our professional workplace. The blogs explored the twin themes of managing meetings and the personal task list. This blog delves into another topic that affects personal effectiveness, especially of the modern white-collar worker: the dreaded ‘task-courier’, Email.

The supersonic speed Email - 'task-courier'
The supersonic speed Email – ‘task-courier’

It is not long ago that communication between individual staff and departments at work, as well as countries, was via: paper memo, letters through the post office, telex, facsimile, and face to face meetings.

While many of us derived our ‘task-orders’ from all the above communication tools, they also boasted admirable characteristics: they allowed enough time in between different communication, allowed time to think through what was written, required money and were a logistical nightmare therefore forcing us only to use them when we had to, and helped us all to keep work and social spheres separate.

In effect, these orthodox communication tools guaranteed: work-life balance, less stress for the white collar worker, and time to enjoy your lunch and tea break.

Now, fast forward to 2015 and we find ourselves in a situation where the White collar work environment has changed from the calm and sensibly paced environment of the early to late 1990’s to a fast moving, 24/7 work environment. A major contributing factor to this 24/7, supersonic speed modern white collar work environment is the Internet, and specifically, Email.

Email, born in 1965, and fast approaching its 50th birthday, consumes 28%+ of the official work hours of the modern white-collar work. Let us put this in context – for those of you doing an eight (8) hour day, approximately 2.5 hours of your time is spent managing email, and this is a conservative estimate.

Unfortunately, in real terms, the total time spent managing email is much more than 2.5 hours per day. This is because Email, as described in the title of this blog, is not only a communication tool but also a task-courier. Since Email is increasingly used to courier tasks, the above 2.5 hours is mostly spent on reading, processing, and organizing mail (hopefully in a task-bank as advised in last week’s blog). In addition to the 2.5 hours, you spend more time following up tasks deriving from your multiple emails.

You have to ask how much of the white collar worker’s time is left for: face to face people management, personal reflection, meetings much as I dread them, and walking about to connect with colleagues at the office. The answer for many is – not much!

Email, The task-courier, ranks as one of the more significant communication industry disrupters of the Internet age. It has forced the post office and courier companies to re-think their business models. Email’s unrelenting capacity to acquire speed is clear to us all. Spurred on by the smartphone revolution, Email can push, forward, and do all sorts of automation to electronic messaging.

Therefore, if you are amongst those struggling with the load this task-courier brings to your inbox and subsequently task-bank, the situation may just become worse.

What was the original intention behind email?

‘Electronic mail, most commonly referred to as email or e-mail since c1993,[2] is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients.’

The original purpose of Email has never changed since its inception. What has changed is the manner in which Email is delivered, significantly influenced by the arrival of the Internet. Email has become faster – a much more effective and efficient tool, that ‘couriers’ messages and tasks from any point on earth at supersonic speed

A communication tool designed to ease communication between individuals has become so good yet unwieldy, that it is a burden to the very people it is meant to help communicate better

It is not far-fetched to write in this blog that the modern white collar work is a victim of Email advancement

What can be done about this Email challenge? You have to ask yourself what would happen if all our Email is shut down for one month. I cannot survive for long without email. I do not want to return to the age of the paper memo, telex, or even facsimile

If Email is a necessary evil, why not flip the challenge and explore instead, ‘what white collar workers can do to tame Email’.

My advice is that we should turn our attention to taming email to work for us and not moaning about it every day

Taming email:

Even though Email is this fast-moving task-courier that creates all sorts of trouble for us, it also provides a tool box with adequate email management/control tools. We all can manage and control email via: investing time to explore available Email management tools as well as learning new Email management habits and self-discipline

Find below a list of things you can do to tame your Email:

  • Outlook Email software Rules – use Outlook software rules to Isolate and manage important vs. urgent email, junk email, etc. I am very surprised by how few white collar work colleagues use Outlook rules, let alone knowing they even exist
  • Make and follow simple yet effective habits like: assigning specific time to check email, as opposed to instantly opening and reading every email dropping into your inbox
  • Avoid Ineffective habits like opening a new email, reading it, only to re-mark it as UNREAD. Well, you will have to return to this email later, and that is assigning yourself idle-tasks as well as using double the time you should to process email
  • Become an advocate for responsible Email-Citizenry. For example, many email users suffer from what I call the ‘REPLYALL’ syndrome. How many times have you checked your inbox folders only to find ‘FYI’ email replies, coming from colleagues suffering from the REPLYALL syndrome? Responsible Email-Citizenry obliges you to publically, yet in a polite manner, ask them to stop the REPLYALL habit. Become a teacher of effective global Email-Citizenry and the accompanying etiquette
  • Use the out-of-office assistant to not only inform others of your absence but also manage bad Email habits. For Example, even with your out-of-office assistant on, individuals shall continue sending email to your inbox. Unless you have not provided a contact for the person acting on your behalf, Email during your long leave should be sent to the person acting on your behalf and not your inbox. Help educate and change this ‘annual plus other leave spoiler’ by adding the message: ‘pls. don’t copy or send me Email until I return to work’.  After all, If you plan your leave well, the person acting on your behalf will do an entry meeting with all your post-leave tasks listed for you.
  • Don’t use Email software as your file manager. This only goes to clog your inbox, slows down your system, plus makes you ineffective

My takeaway: Email either makes you extremely effective or ineffective at what you do. It is up to you to tame Email. We ought to stop complaining about email, after all, we can not do without email for long. If we do not invest in responsible Email-citizenry, we shall continue and unfairly, blaming email for our workload woes

Are you a responsible Email-citizen?


7 responses to “Email – the ‘task-courier’ & devil”

  1. […] READ ALSO: Email – the ‘task courier’ and devil […]


  2. Apollo
    Thank you very much for the important tips on being responsible email citizens. I sure have lots to learn from this.


    1. Thanks Mina for taking time to read the blog. Can I also say: welcome back from leave. We are all happy to have you back!


  3. Apollo, this is a great article and picking a lot to take forward. We are all victims of one or two bad email citizenry, thanks for pulling this together.


    1. Henry – thanks for taking time to read the blog. We have to change our values & habits towards email management.


  4. Apollo, what a nice piece that is spot on…to my habbits! Hmmm! Anyhow, email has become our work burden, it has spoilt our lovely workplace interactions. Staff sitting in one room communicate through email even small matters that be sorted out face to face. Email stops people movinf around, exercising their bodies to keep healthy. Emails through smartphones have changed revolutionized computer use. Laptops have been abandoned because all office mails comes through phone. Emails have extended working hours beyond the officially paid 8 hrs….we respond to emails even after midnite!! Crazy world…therefore, the traditional workplace has shifted from rented office space to all spaces including bedrooms, cars, markets, sports etc… I dislike checking emails in meetings…but its the norm in meetings, workshops, trainings etc…people spend more time opening laptops responding to official mails instead of focusing on the theme and learning and interacting with others. You find people in meetings active during tea and lunch break instead of designed discussion time.

    Apollo, I wish we can go back to the hardpaper mails! We used to respect memo from HQ of Country Offices but now, such memos are no longer read because they are diverted to junk emails! What a mess!


    1. Kairu – I can not agree more with your analysis sebbo. I like your analogy of the ‘extension of offices beyond rented spaces to bedrooms’ and I must say toilets. Email and the smartphone have ushered in a period of super fast communication, but for the untamed, incredible ineffectiveness and bad habits at work – how can staff sharing office space communicate on email as opposed to talking directly? However, it’s up to us to change that – Email is not to blame for all this mess, but us. Let me and you start changing this from today…


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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