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[Has email saved us?]Has Email saved us?

   Nidhi Taparia

Amit Kaul, project leader at HCL, hates checking email. Apart from delaying work and upsetting his schedules, most messages he receives are irrelevant.

Many would identify with his predicament. Just as the answering machine gave us a reason to avoid the phone, email has given us a new incentive to delay work regularly. What was once touted as a more efficient means of communication is now unstoppable. For even the moderately busy, a hundred new messages daily is nothing out of the ordinary.

So, email arrived, and everyone was pleased. Are they still as happy? Here's a reality check.

Myth 1: Email saves time.

Does it? By the time some of us finish with our inbox, we barely have time to get down to work. Jessie Paul, Marketing Manager at Infosys has her routine worked out. "I simply delete messages if the first three lines indicate any irrelevance". Managing her email also includes not using the office account for personal mail, and subscribing to only three daily and two weekly newsletters of quality. One more tip: "The best way to end a long chain of messages is by picking up the phone or solving a problem face to face".

Myth 2: Email equals a paperless office.

Debatable. Some admit email has helped cut down on the usage of paper but add that a paperless office is still a few light years away. Geeta Rajagopal, a software programmer, still prints a hundred odd pages a month because head honchos prefer reading printouts at their convenience instead of looking at computer screens.

On the other side of the fence, Jessie can't remember the last time she sent a formal letter. "A conscious effort is being made at Infosys, right from the Board level, to limit printouts where a soft copy will suffice. Most of our internal communications have moved to the intranet, so there is a considerable decrease in paper consumption." Mahesh Shantaram of Jasubhai Digital Media has gone a step further and uninstalled his printer: "It is my way of proving a point".

Myth 3: Email means faster communication.

Gartner, a research firm, shows how email is the biggest waste of a worker's time. According to the survey, 34 percent of internal email received is unnecessary and only 27 percent demands immediate attention.

Bhavin Turakhia who heads Directi, a web solutions firm, disagrees. He prefers sending email even if it is to a colleague in the same building. "It doesn't disturb anyone, and also serves as a reminder".

Many agree that a mere 10 per cent of all messages received are important. The rest either elicit simple responses or stand in for short notes saying "Thanks". Faster, yes, but still unnecessary.

Myth 4: Email leads to more efficiency.

Shailendra Singh uses his inbox as a mobile desk with all necessary documents, presentations, addresses, and contact information. Email also makes life simple for Siddarth Hegde of Talisma, who can track messages sent to senior colleagues. "Unlike a telephone call that can be intercepted by a secretary and leave decisions hanging in the air, email provokes action".

Shailendra and Siddarth are exceptions though. Most public figures and executives need to have secretaries and assistants trudge through masses of email regularly. "I spend at least 15 minutes reading unsolicited email daily," says Divya Kumar, a Pune-based entrepreneur who feels that email decreases efficiency because it can be easily misused.

Myth 5: Filters and multiple addresses help control email.

Almost perversely, the few workable solutions seem to involve even more email. Yes, multiple addresses make for fewer messages in each account, but more accounts demand more of one's time in order to check each.

Also, not all managing mantras work for everybody. Mahesh Shantaram set filters to move email to different folders. They bloated quickly and transferred a lot of personal mail to unimportant folders.

Today, his operating word is, simply, 'Delete'.

SPECIAL: 30 YEARS OF EMAIL


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