Three reasons email and spreadsheets are bad for marketers

Are you using 30-year-old technology to keep track of your work?

The 1980s called, and they want their email and spreadsheets back. If you’re still tracking tasks and projects using Microsoft Excel, you have some catching up to do.

First prototyped by Harvard Business School student Dan Bricklin (aka “The Father of Modern Day Spreadsheets”), electronic spreadsheets got their start in 1978. And while they’ve certainly served a useful purpose over the years—and still do—spreadsheets have also been shoehorned to fit purposes they weren’t really designed for. Like project planning. Granted, at the time, there were no better options. But that was then.

The same goes for electronic mail. By 1985, email was commonplace among academics, government workers, and military personnel with access to the early Internet, although you couldn’t send an attachment until 1992. The web-based email used widely today didn’t launch until 1996—that’s 20 years ago, for those of you who are counting.

This brief history begs the question: are you using technology from 20 or 30 years ago as your primary means of managing your work tasks today? If your answer is, “Yeah, and so what?”, we invite you to consider the following five disadvantages. (Also, here’s an organisation that would love your support.)

1. Email distracts you from your real work

According to a recent survey of 2,051 UK office workers, 40% report that excessive emails get in the way of their work on a daily basis. When you’re busy and looking for a reason to procrastinate, it can take considerable restraint to ignore an incoming mail notification. And while it’s a great idea to relegate email checking to just 2-3 blocks of time throughout the day, this can trigger FOMO (“fear of missing out”) in even the most disciplined workers. (I wonder if Steve responded to my email yet? What if everyone’s making lunch plans by email, and I’ll miss the chance to weigh in?)

Your best bet is to shift your company culture and redesign processes so people aren’t living in their email inboxes all day long. According to IT research and consulting firm BaseX, if all knowledge workers sent 10 percent fewer emails, the productivity gains would make a $180 billion annual impact worldwide in the workplace.

2. Email is a bottomless pit

Even those with stellar email habits can struggle to keep on top of the constant pings of incoming email. Because email is difficult to prioritise any other way than chronologically, the most recent emails always seem the most urgent, and the truly important emails get quickly buried in new-message quicksand.

While it is possible to sort incoming emails into folders, use a starring or tagging system to separate “to-dos” from “FYIs,” and even create automatic filters, inbox management still requires massive amounts of manual attention.

If you Google any form of the phrase “clean up your email inbox,” you’ll find approximately 73 million results. There’s a reason for this: it’s a pervasive problem, and almost no one is doing it well. (And if they are, they don’t have much time left over for their actual job—unless their actual job is to write articles titled, “4 Easy Tools for Cleaning Up Your Email Inbox.”)

3. Spreadsheets are often indecipherable and error-prone

The largest possible Excel worksheet size today is 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns, and many of us have encountered spreadsheets that appear to be approaching that limit. Over time, even simple task-tracking spreadsheets can take on lives of their own, requiring a dedicated employee to keep them updated and train others how to decipher them. (And once that employee realises he can leverage his unique ability to decode mission-critical spreadsheets, watch out.)

The problem gets even worse when you’re dealing with multiple linked spreadsheets with complex macros. One human error made in a single cell of a single spreadsheet can spell disaster for your team. Remember that one time MI5 bugged 134 wrong phone numbers? Or when the London Olympics sold 10,000 tickets that didn’t exist? Both were spreadsheet errors – or rather human errors that were magnified by spreadsheets.

Technology has advanced beyond email and spreadsheets

These 1980s technologies definitely still have a place in the modern marketing department, but new options have arisen that make them obsolete for project management and task tracking.

If your beloved email and spreadsheets don’t provide the ability to build on past project templates, drag-and-drop tasks to new calendar dates and trigger automatic notifications to all stakeholders and contributors, or invite real-time collaboration that’s connected to the actual work being done—at the very least—then it’s time to invest in some 21st century technology.

Jada Balster, Marketing Director, EMEA, Workfront

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