My favorite book as a child was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I identified with Alexander’s frustration as his day went from bad to worse. Several times, Alexander’s mother reminded him that there will always be days like the one he was having, even if he makes good on his threat to move to Australia.

In my opinion, email is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad knowledge repository. It consumes so much time. It takes our concentration away from what we should be focusing on. Most of us spend upwards of 20% of our time just managing our email inbox.

But we keep using email as one of our go-to places for knowledge.

What makes email such a poor knowledge repository?

  1. The volume of email we receive is enormous and growing. One study suggests that we send more emails collectively in two days than there are stars in our galaxy (look here for counts of emails and stars).
  2. Most of us manage email poorly, looking at the emails that we just received and letting older emails fall down the list.
  3. Email is poorly formatted as a communication tool and nearly useless for knowledge retrieval. A subject line, a free-form text field in the email body and some rudimentary tagging (importance). The lack of structure in the email body makes determining if it is what you need both time consuming and frustrating.

What can you do?

Wearing my consulting hat, I suggest a 90-day program to build a system and practices to capture share the knowledge you have in your emails.

What if you want to start now and don’t have the time or organizational support to do a complete program? You can use your email to start modeling knowledge-sharing practices. Capture the email in a structured way, put it into a place where it is easier to find, reuse it rather than your email and gather data about how well it is working for you.

  1. Start with your own emails and put them into a simple structure where you can find and reuse them easily (a wiki, a Word document). For an example, see our suggestions for structuring knowledge.
  2. Try sending emails with a structured body (using your own structure) when someone asks you for information.
  3. If you can, share your little repository on a shared drive or community Web site so your colleagues can get to it. And, tell them where to find it.
  4. Do a quick count of how many times a day you look back at your email for knowledge and how many times you consult your new “repository.” Tally them up for a few days and look at the trends.

These quick steps will move your knowledge to a location where it is easier to find and reuse. It isn’t perfect, but a 10 or 20% reduction in the time you are spending looking for knowledge in your email can add up. Your productivity will increase.

If you don’t start today, you will be just like all of the other people in your company who rely on email for their knowledge. All over the world, people are wasting their days looking through email. Even in Australia.

Take a look at Klever’s 30-minute training for new team members – Knowledge Sharing Skills Everyone Can Master.

How did you get started sharing knowledge? What are one or two quick tips for making your knowledge easier to find and reuse?

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