Ebb and Flow

A lot of the patterns that we see with crowds seem to be universal. When I was young, I would often see a situation where a restaurant or store would be empty and quiet, then get really busy for a short period of time, then return to an empty and quiet state. This wasn't just around meal time or during a sale, but at any time of the day. It's almost as if people move in an unconscious herd, electing to do what others have already chosen and are currently engaged in. Whether this is accurate or not, I don't know. What's interesting is that this sort of thing can also be observed at the day job.

A pattern of order is emerging from the apparent chaos that is the corporate inbox. For roughly three weeks of every month, messages trickle in at a rate of five per day with people asking for or providing information. The other week, however, has several dozen messages waiting for me at the start of every day with several dozen more coming in throughout the morning and afternoon. The deluge is simply too much to stay on top of and my usual Inbox Zero state balloons out to an Inbox Twenty while tasks are being performed based on the perceived priority of the request. This is apparently the busy week for July, as there are a ridiculous number of emails in the inbox1, messages coming in via Slack2, requests on Teams3, and even a handful on Skype. Messages are coming in every which way, making it hard to stay afloat.

Both the ebb and the flow moments of the month are appreciated as one shows that people think I have something of value to share, be it knowledge, time, or skill, while the other allows me to get caught up on all the things that people have requested that were impossible to complete immediately. What I sometimes wonder is how people who receive a much higher quantity of email and messages manage to cope with the influx of communications. Some of my colleagues can receive as many as 100 emails an hour because of the role they play within the company. Do they read everything? Or do they need to declare "inbox bankruptcy" on a regular basis just to stave off information overload? Do they also have an ebb and flow in their months?

As more people across the organization start to get in touch to ask questions, request help, and provide feedback on the myriad of systems I'm partially — or completely — responsible for, I wonder if I'll be able to keep up without breaking the rule of not having work email on the phone.


  1. By "ridiculous", I mean 16. All have been read, but not all are complete. They will stay in the Inbox until complete, when they will then be archived.

  2. I don't use Slack, but some colleagues do. When I see the tablet light up with a message from that location, I fire up the browser and see what's going on.

  3. Is it just me, or has Microsoft really Skype'd Teams up to the point where you expect the hardware to crash?