Month: May 2015

#NoEmail: Revelation and Revolution

zero-inbox

A normal day at work?

Just a few weeks ago, I started my day at work in the usual ritualistic autopilot kind of headspace (put lunch in fridge, found workstation, put snacks in strategic easy-reach locations, filled water bottle, plugged phones in to charge…) and settled into the familiar hum of the computer firing up; clucking and whirring as I tried to remember which password was going to let me into the network. And relax…

Then, something phenomenal happened… I opened Microsoft Outlook.

…OK, I admit it, there’s absolutely nothing phenomenal about opening Outlook – it’s what I found in Outlook that was so mind shatteringly illogical.

I found nothing. Zilch. Inbox Zero. The Holy Grail of the modern office worker.

So, the super-astute among you will have worked out that of course I knew I had an empty inbox the last time I logged out (ta da!) but I guess the interesting thing is that I’d spent some time out of the office and had also managed to avoid checking my emails on my phone in the mean time. I’d been expecting at least a few emails to come through – but nothing. Nada.

A fluke? Well, I don’t think so. I’ve been working in an email driven environment for at least 15 years now and these days it’s extremely rare to not receive anything. And besides, I had a strong hunch that my continued state of empty inbox had something to do with the way I’d been working recently. I had been purposefully trying to send less email, and with quite a lot of success. I’d also been researching, practicing and developing my own ‘no-email methods’ to see if I could change the way I worked and influence how others communicated with me.

And blow me down, it seemed to be having an effect!

dilbert-email-love-comic

Discovering the #NoEmail movement

To get an idea of my journey we have to go a little way back. I’ve talked about my sickening realisation that email was bad for me in this post, so I’ll try to fill in the gaps from there…

My journey toward a life with less email was triggered by meeting a gent called Luis Suarez online (no not that one). Luis introduced me to a whole bunch of people who are trying to or who have succeeded in stopping using email altogether. I mean, I found this quite bonkers!

For a long time I’d felt like email was the wrong tool for the job in most cases where it was being used. But I felt stuck for solutions and any kind of inspiration. Even the Yammer network in our organisation was grossly underused so I had felt very sceptical about the value and possibilities of Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)…

But here was Luis telling me he’d been e-mail free for over 7 years, some companies had been email free for even longer and, well – lots of people were doing it. Either shouting about it or keeping it relatively quiet. But there were people out there who thought the same way I did – that email was inherently something of a broken system.

But how could there be any other way but email? How had these people done it?

A brave new world

I’d spent a few months just wallowing in the normality of email, devoid of any solutions or answers. I’d gone into denial and basically decided it was alright – “nothing to see here” just get on with the work and keep punching out those endless Reply, Reply All, Trash, File functions of my daily life at work. Yes, I’d moved into a different role in my organisation and I was certainly receiving and sending less email than I had been in my previous job anyway… surely this was OK right? Wrong.

If you want to become a swimming coach, you have to get in the water [Paul Jones]

After a few days of hanging out online with these awesome folks from all around the world who seemed to have cracked it (or at least were on their way), it came to me in a flash. I actually had to do something. I had to change the way I worked.

I can’t stress this enough – I really felt it hit me: I was the master of my own destiny – if I wanted to change the way I communicated to something better, I had to get off my backside and do it. What on earth had I been doing? What was I waiting for?

  • Would I get fired for behaving differently? Unlikely.
  • Would I be ostracised for trying to quit email? Possibly.
  • Would this be… fun? Definitely.

I found a wealth of information, tricks, tips, articles and support through this network of people and I was inspired that there was another way, a better way, to manage work communication. I set about trying new methods and techniques for reducing the amount of Email I received and key to this was reducing how much I sent.

I discovered, through trying out the ideas they suggested, that #NoEmail methods can be applied – and the results have been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I’m not just talking about occasionally finding myself with an empty inbox (which is nice), but discovering that my interactions are more meaningful, that I’m completing work quicker and I believe the quality of my work to have improved.

I’ve also got more time to think. Remember that? Time to think?…

Yes. You remember.

There is a way of working that is more networked and collaborative and better for people – a way of communicating that in some way re-humanises the work we do – blasted out of our inboxes and into the sphere of creative conversation.

Sounds good?

It is.

In my next post I’ll be talking about my journey Getting Started with #NoEmail – some of the very simple tips and methods I’ve used (with credit to those that have gone before me!) in getting out of my inbox…   

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The sickening realisation that email was bad for me

10

Little Beginnings

I think the first thing I saw that inspired me to start thinking differently about #email was this cartoon from the most marvellous The Oatmeal. And this one does a pretty good follow up of the subject as well.

These brilliant comic strips got me thinking how much time and energy I’d put in (and not just at work) to managing my inbox. Not too long back (2012-2014) I had a pretty senior position in the public sector (well, by my standards anyway – responsible for a workforce around 180 people running social care services). It was the kind of role where I received a LOT of instructions via email from people more senior than me. And as a fall out from this I found myself sending more and more emails as a way of delegating work.

Gut Reaction

I knew it was wrong. I could feel it in my bones and in my gut. But I carried on doing it. I could spend a whole day just managing my inbox – replying, drafting, deleting, filing, flagging, creating follow up deadlines, forwarding, re-composing, collating, grouping… PROCESSING! It drove me mad.

I also knew it was driving my team mad. I was responsible for managing 5 managers who in turn managed service areas. They were so pissed off with me. They were an exceptionally good team who I had a lot of respect for. They made occasional guarded and polite comments about the amount of email I was sending them. But they were never overtly critical. To be fair, I think they just ignored a lot of it. They had better things to do.

And this bugged me – it really bugged me. Because I agreed with them – I agreed that they DID have better things to do. And that raised the question with me – why didn’t I have anything better to do? What was I doing? I mean sure I was doing some important pieces of work and some of that was via email (or at least the communications around the work were); but the email itself? What was that all about? The email was not the work – or at least it shouldn’t have been. One of the people I managed said this to me one day and it really stuck with me:

E-mail was supposed to help us DO the work… help us get through administrative tasks faster so that we could get on with the important work more quickly. It was supposed to give us more time. But it didn’t. It’s taken all our time. Now email IS the work.

Pondering Change

I mused on this for a few months. I was resolved to start working differently… just as soon as I could clear my inbox.

I started obsessing about how many emails I was receiving. I considered it a bad day if it exceeded 100 received (including automatic notification emails such as calendar invite acceptances and Out Of Office notifications). I think the top number I counted was 120 one day. On average I’d receive between 30 and 60 a day, generally building up to a toxic level at 4pm on a Friday and continuing throughout Mondays. I was also sending about 50% of the number I was receiving. I had no PA support and I’m a bit of a hoarder, so I was doing a lot of thinking about where each email should go – did I need to keep hold of it? yes, generally! So I had a marvellously complex filing system for all this traffic (not trusting the search functions of my email client!). The whole thing was an industry – one long never ending manufacturing conveyor belt.

Möbius_strip

I was also pretty convinced, that even though I’d acknowledged that email was perhaps a bad thing, that it was also important. This may seem contradictory, but what I mean here is that although I had realised e-mail was ‘bad’ (i.e. something was inherently wrong with it as a communication system if I seemed to be spending more than 50% of my time processing it), I had also decided there was no alternative!..

…I’d spent some time one day reviewing my inbox to see if there was stuff in there that was useless or pointless… and I’d come to the devastating conclusion that it was all pretty much essential. There was nothing to be done. These things needed my response. They needed my interpretation. The amount of emails I had received and the people I had received them from were all worthwhile and important.

I was just going to have to deal with it. After all, there were numerous people I knew who received more emails than me (300 a day one said… another said more than that… and there seemed to be people all around who wore their over-capacity Inbox like a badge of honour!). I was just going to have to be much better organised at managing my inbox.

A Glimmer of Hope

It was several months later after a job change and having gone into reclusive denial (all but giving up on the idea that something might be able to be done) that I ran into Luis Suarez on Twitter. Interesting! Who was this guy? I’d noticed a colleague of mine was a connection somehow and made the link, taking a punt on introducing myself. We quickly got into a conversation about email and he pointed me toward this video (now a little old but still great!):

The next thing I knew… well… that’s another post.