Does Email Volume Hit a Natural Limit?

While there are lots of people who complain about receiving too many emails per day, the complaint that “I get too much email” is a bit of a red herring.

While there is a certain amount of email that is written with poor quality (sometimes as high as 65% according to research by Burgess, Jackson and Ewards;  Email Overload: Tolerance Levels of Employees within the Workplace,) and a further amount is simply SPAM, there is a critical percentage of email that involves communication required to perform one’s job, career and profession.

In other words, it’s not an extra chore, it’s the very essence of the job of a knowledge worker: to craft skillful communication, manage time demands and make critical decisions that move projects to completion.  If there were no email, the communication would still have to be realized, albeit at a slower pace.

What does a professional have to complain about when it comes to email volumes?  If they are part and parcel of the job, then each valid message is to be expected and should be welcomed as it shows that necessary communication is taking place, as it should.  Email is an excellent medium for most kinds of communication, and cannot be effectively replaced by paper memos or face to face meetings.

It should be expected that with a promotion, a new project or an expansion in one’s accountabilities that email volume will increase.   Each step up in one’s career requires further communication, not less, and also greater skill.

The question is whether or not there is a “natural” amount of email communication that is inherent in a particular role.  Does it increase to a certain level, and then level off?  Or, should we expect one’s email to increase, and to keep growing without any logical limit.

I can’t claim to have answers to these questions, but my intuition tells me that there’s a natural increase in daily messages that takes place from one job to the next.  While we don’t know how to measure the difference, or predict it, it seems reasonable to assume that it does exist.

If it does, then there’s some comfort in knowing that email doesn’t come out of nowhere.  Instead, each and every valid message appears in your Inbox because you are doing your job well.  It needs to be embraced, and managed — even if it requires a user to performance an upgrade to his/her skills.

Certainly, blaming the new job or one’s colleagues is not an empowering stance to take.