The Tragedy of the Commons – with Email

The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory which states that “individuals acting independently and rationally according to each’s self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource”.


This shows up in our personal and professional lives in a number of ways, but I would argue that the common resource being depleted at work is TIME.  TIME is a largely unregulated resource in knowledge work, but is indeed one of the key resources used to turn ideas into value for our customers.

In my personal experience, one of the activities that depletes TIME most is EMAIL, among a few others.  That said, I firmly believe that there are no bad actors in the daily use of EMAIL.  In fact, I feel everyone is acting “rationally”.  However, the collective experience is indeed tragic….everyone doing their rational best, yet inadvertently degrading the team’s ability to achieve our goals.

I don’t have an answer, but I am committed to help make it better (for me and for others if possible).  To get started, I thought I would share an interesting tool called “the email charter”.


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