A small extract from Michael Dertouzos’ new book “The Unfinished Revolution” paints a picture we are all too familiar with, and provides a radical solution:
It’s 11 p.m. and I check my email. Ninety-eight new messages have arrived since yesterday. At 2 to 3 minutes per message, my average response time, I’ll need 4 hours to handle them. I’d like to grant them my highest security classification, DBR – “destroy before reading.”
Wish we could all do that! But the reality is that we do get dozens of messages a day and these messages do need our attention. It is no wonder that executives are spending on an average two hours daily managing email. Not only are messages going to get longer in the future, their volume is going to increase. Result: more time in front of the mail client. Email management must not exceed 10-20% of our time for us. For this, we need smarter message clients.
Here’s one example from Dertouzos of how the messaging client can be smarter:
I have constructed an array of screen “push buttons”. When I click on a button, it inserts a preset note informing the recipient of my conclusion or question, forwards the annotated message to my assistant or the person who emailed me the message, and removes the mail from the incoming message list – all with one click. I have different buttons which say, “Yes, I’ll be able to do it”, “No”, “You handle it”, “Let’s talk”, and so on. I have been able to reply to enough messages via these buttons to reduce my average below one minute.
I will give some more examples of features which if embedded on the message client can help make our lives better:
An Intelligent Email Assistant: this watches what I do – which messages I delete, how much time I spent responding, how quickly I handle which messages, and so on. This can help identify my favourites – the important people whom I want to accord priority. It can also get rid of the junk emails (so it would set up filtering also). They key point here is to watch what I do – a lot can be learnt from just that. Think of this as your Jeeves.
Faster Typing: A lot of people (like me!) are still one or at best two-finger typists (and since most older people getting on the Net will definitely be these!). We need to make their lives less painful in terms of typing. We need to create a program which examines what I am typing and then allows me to create two-letter macros for frequently typed phrases. This is one way my typing actually decreases and I become more efficient. This goes beyond word completion. For example, I like to begin my emails with “Thank you for your email.” I must be typing this not less than 20 times a day, and probably make mistakes at least twice! I could replace this with just “ty” a two-letter shorthand which gets expanded when I send the email. So, the client needs to keep looking at all emails sent by the user, pick up common phrases by matching against a database, and then allow the user to give a two-letter short-form for that. I could give “addr” for the 5-line address of our office, I could give “ph” for the phone numbers in the office. As it learns, it makes me more efficient.