E-Mail as a Filing System, and Other Bad E-Mail Behaviors

In the late 1980s many companies were trying to induce their workforces to become more techno-savvy. As part of this effort there was a real push to get people to use E-Mail more aggressively. One of the arguments that was used at that time was that E-Mail folders could be used to easily segregate data into 'electronic file cabinets' that could be easily accessed, sorted, and searched. All of this was true and in a relatively short time people truly embraced E-Mail as the main method of corporate communication.

E-Mail is now so popular that people will often E-Mail a co-worker who literally sits 10 feet away from them. As a matter and fact many people consider E-Mail to be their main filing system for all business and much non-business communication.

That's the good news... The bad news is that:

* The workplace has become a lot less socially interactive than it was in the past. You can argue that this is 'social evolution' as illustrated by the popularity of FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other social networking forums, but the reality is that business is enhanced by face to face communication. <<Truth in advertising moment.. I am way too guilty of this>>

* Too many personal issues get documented and stored in E-Mail -talk about making Big Brother's job easier!

* Considerable server space and associated maintenance activities such as back-up and E-Mail data management is expended on keeping these systems up and running.

* Unfortunately, E-Mail data files are not a conglomeration of individual files, but rather a database where each E-Mail is in effect a record. So why should you care, courtesy of the E-Mail client interface, it looks and acts like a filing system, so where's the problem?
The problem is if a particular E-Mail gets corrupted, the entire database - all your E-Mail - gets corrupted. I can assure you there is nothing more pitiful for an IT professional to watch than someone literally begging her to 'just resurrect a couple really important E-Mails' from the corrupted data file. Unfortunately, often this is not possible, even with excellent recovery tools.

So how should you manage your E-Mail?

* Start by saving any E-Mail that is particularly important to your business in a real filing system - a folder on your hard drive or network drive. Initially this may be very difficult and you may want to just start doing it on a going forward basis. That way if one file gets corrupted, only one file is affected.

* Immediately delete any personal E-Mail, if you must store it someplace, forward it to your personal E-Mail account and store it there, then delete it off your business E-Mail. This is not only safer for your personal security but indicates to your employer that you respect their right to have you use their E-Mail system for business not personal use.

* If you don't really need something for business purposes, delete it. There is no point in having to explain E-Mails that are subpoenaed for a law suit against you and/or your employer if you were just discussing theoreticals that were never acted upon.

* Don't send anyone an E-Mail you wouldn't want your mother to read, once you hit the Send button it belongs to the world - as does anything you put on the Internet.

* Get off your butt and actually talk to the person two cubes down about mutual interest subject matter, it will not only enhance your personal and business relationship, but also provide a little exercise.

In closing, E-Mail is a great business and personal communication tool, but don't use it in a manner that sets you up for a disaster.

About the Author:

Pete Matassa has over 18 years of management and training experience. He has developed and implemented project management courses, taught courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, and teaches PMP prep classes his local PMI Chapter. He has also presented on project management topics at PMI North American Congresses and PMI symposiums. Pete is a PMP and has a BA and MBA from the University of South Florida.

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