Inbox blues

What if you had a coworker who sneaked into your cubicle every time your back was turned and stacked more work on your desk?

You wouldn't stand for it, right? You'd complain to the boss, or have words with the coworker or give him a deserved thrashing.

But that very scenario happens all the time. With e-mail.

Whenever you're not looking (and sometimes right before your very eyes), e-mail slips into your computer and deposits work assignments there. There's no stopping it. There's no arguing with e-mail. You can't even beat it up.

Sure, you can turn off your e-mail, even turn off the whole computer, but many of us can't do our work without a computer. And shutting off e-mail means cutting yourself off from the world. Eventually, you're forced to turn it back on. And guess what? The work will be there waiting for you.

All this came to mind recently after I finished a big project. I was so happy to be done, I met my wife for lunch to celebrate. Finally finished! After months of daily striving. Now I could catch my breath. I could take a few days off. My time was my own. I could take a nap or read a book or go for a stroll.

I went home to my computer, eager to send an e-mail to my best friend, to crow about finishing my big project and getting some time off.

You guessed it. Waiting in my inbox were three e-mails from people who needed me to do some work or make some decisions. Right away. So much for a nap. I had another hour of work to do.

Remember the days when you could be unavailable? No e-mail, no cell phones, no laptops. You could take the weekend off, even take a vacation, and your employers wouldn't call unless there was a dire emergency. Now, the work never stops coming.

Your boss gets an idea on the golf course on Saturday, zips it to you via e-mail, and you're expected to have a full proposal ready by Monday morning. You spend a quiet evening at home with the family, but make the mistake at looking at your e-mail just before bedtime; whoops, you're working until 2 a.m.

Work delivered by e-mail is impersonal and uncaring. If your boss tries to shovel a big, steaming pile of work onto your desk in person, he might pick up some cues. He might notice that you're already overwhelmed, extremely annoyed, even homicidal. With e-mail, he can zip that work your way without worrying that you might club him with a paperweight.

Just maintaining one's inboxes presents a ton of work. Sorting out the spam and the porn and the greeting cards and the Nigerian money scams can gobble up hours every day. Hiding among all those jokes and gibberish and attachments will be more work, lying in wait, snickering.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to give my computer a good thrashing. Soon as I answer these e-mails.

1 comment:

Larry said...

"""You could take the weekend off, even take a vacation, and your employers wouldn't call unless there was a dire emergency"""
Oh, is that how it works? All these years they called and they weren't supposed to? Gee, wish I'd known.