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!
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.
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…