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Quality versus quantity: e-mail-centric task management and its relation with overload

 

It is widely acknowledged that many professionals suffer from "e-mail overload." This article presents findings from in-depth fieldwork that examined this phenomenon, uncovering six key challenges of task management in e-mail. Analysis of qualitative and quantitative data suggests that it is not simply the quantity but also the collaborative quality of e-mail task and project management that causes this overload. We describe how e-mail becomes especially overwhelming when people use it for tasks that involve participation of others; tasks cannot be completed until a response is obtained and so they are interleaved. Interleaving means that the e-mail user must somehow simultaneously keep track of multiple incomplete tasks, often with the only reminder for each one being an e-mail message somewhere in the inbox or folder. This and other insights from our fieldwork led us to a new design philosophy for e-mail in which resources for task and project management are embedded directly within an e-mail client as opposed to being added on as separate components of the application. A client, TaskMaster, embodying these ideas, was developed and tested by users in managing their real e-mail over an extended period. The design of the client and results of its evaluation are also reported.

 
citation

Bellotti, V. ; Ducheneaut, N. ; Howard, M. A. ; Smith, I. E. ; Grinter, R. E. Quality versus quantity: e-mail-centric task management and its relation with overload. Human-Computer Interaction. 2005; 20 (1-2): 89-138.