It may seem hard to believe, but there was once a time when e-mail was seen as a powerful boost to productivity. Workers welcomed the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with colleagues across the office or around the world, and information flowed as never before. Today, of course, this flow is more likely to inspire groans than applause. According to industry analysts, the average worker spends two to four hours each day going through an ever- refilling in-box, trying to sift a few grains of useful content from so many redundant, contradictory or irrelevant messages. Half the day is lost before work has even begun. How has this happened? How has a tool with such great promise come to be such a productivity sinkhole?

The problem is simple: misuse. Although e-mail is ideally suited for one-to-one communication between two individuals and for one-to-many applications such as announcements, directives and the centralized dissemination of information, it is poorly suited for the many-to-many communication on which most collaboration depends. Unfortunately, this is one of its most common uses.

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