Email is a problem. Its management soaks up lots of our time. We use it as a system of record instead of a means of communication. We're swamped. We're stressed. We're spending so much time with email, we're doing less of the things we want or need to do.

I was at a meeting recently where a colleague suggested that a useful experiment would be to limit everyone to n outgoing emails each day - n being the average number of emails we need to send. That's not the same as the number we feel we should send. The implication was that our email addiction is now so bad, the only way to reform our behaviour is to impose arbitrary limits. If the number of emails we were able to send was somehow limited, the endless back and forth would have to stop. It would force us to speak to each other, agree something and then record any outcomes or requirements.

Of course, it isn't that easy. How would you determine the correct value for n? Would that be the same for everyone? Would it even be the same from week to week? Where and how would you record decisions and outcomes?

It is, however, an awfully seductive idea.

The thing is, we could improve email now without the need for systemic limits. We could ask ourselves whether an email is necessary. We could pause for a moment the next time we're ready to hit send.

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