Category: No-Email

Getting Started With #NoEmail (Part 3) – “Stop Sending Emails”

keep-calm-and-stop-sending-emails-8

A sure-fire way to have less email in your life is to stop sending any in the first place. Obvious isn’t it?

I know, I know – even though it’s obvious, I’m going to pick this apart a little, just because the relationship between what comes in and what I send out has been obsessing me for some time. And perhaps you need convincing… perhaps I too, still need a little convincing!

You see, for me, sending less emails is such a simple answer… it’s just not necessarily easy.

I have been doing some quasi-scientific research on this since Feb 2015 looking at my own email habits and I can now say that from my own experience, sending less emails, does mean that less and less emails have come into my life. There is definitely a correlation.

Sound good?

It is good.

There is an exponential benefit that’s described really well in this lovely little vid:

I think everyone is pretty familiar with the Email Tree situation and how one email, which seems so innocent, has the ability to multiply and reproduce many times over. The more recipients you have in your original email the more chance it has of generating more email trees.

And we all know about the emails that come out to huge circulation lists for ‘cascading’ through an organisational structure… euch! How many of those just get deleted, filed or at worst just sit in someone’s inbox forever – unread or ignored, taking up space.

There is a trend in organisational culture of people sending emails needlessly to multiple recipients, using BCC and CC fields and copying in way too many people – basically choosing email as the tool for all communication, when often it is completely the wrong method.

I often feel like email is sent with no compassion for the recipient at all. No love or respect for what they are doing, or even whether they are interested. We send email without thinking and without heart. No wonder the receiver gets an icky feeling when they open their inbox!

or57k

I think we send emails because we feel we ‘have to’ and because we’re too lazy to think of a better way of communicating.

There, I said it. We’re lazy. That laziness breeds a culture of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results. Even further, we get into a habit of thinking that the results we get with email are OK. Even good!

This recent article quoted some research that found the following:

More than 85 percent of employees with access to social networks still used email hourly, and 83 percent considered it effective. Even 90 percent of gen X and gen Y professionals said they preferred email, whereas only 42 percent considered texting or instant messaging to be effective for communicating with team members.

Get that? 83% thought e-mail was effective. The fact that email is most certainly not effective (or at least as effective as other means) is worthy of a whole other blog post. I think for now, I just want to assume that you’re with me on this. You’d like to have less of it in your life… right? OK, I’ll carry on.

So… back to the “sending less email = receiving less email” formula.

image005

The above are my real results up to the end of August 2015 (I’m going to share my most recent data in another post). You can see here that the trend of received emails in purple is starting to track downwards and that there is a direct correlation between that downward trend and the amount of emails I am sending (in red).

In later statistics this correlation is even more marked – I have a ‘spike’ month in September where I send a lot of emails and my received track up significantly following suit. When I send less in October, the received statistics come back down again.

Could it be the other way around? That I am ‘responding’ to the external influence of incoming emails? I think this could have been a theory to be tested in a previous role – but my current job is pretty much the other way around – I generate my own communications… I tend to be the one reaching out to others via email (if I have to).

So the big question is how do I actually manage to send less email? Especially in a culture where email is the expected default method of communication around the organisation.

It has not been easy – it has taken quite a lot of hard work and I have had to train myself to think differently at every communication point in the day. As I have practiced, it has become easier and I have started making alternatives to email my default communication methods. I have to think less and less.

These are my little practices:

  • STOP: Every time I receive an email from someone else I don’t reply straight away. I stop. Every time. Even if it feels easy to reply and like it would be the fastest, most appropriate way to respond. I stop. And I think.
  • TIMING: I then think about timing. Is it the right time to react to this incoming communication? Usually, I can think of a better time than right now. Answering right now would be reacting. What I want to do, is respond.
  • OPPORTUNITY: I then think of all the opportunities I can around this communication. For example, do other people need to know? Is this a simple question or does it open up more questions that need to be answered? What could be the best possible outcome from communicating with this person?
  • RISK: I then think of the risks of communicating and of not communicating. I think about who is ‘in and out’ of the loop with what’s been presented. I ask myself – what’s the worst thing that could happen if I just deleted this email? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I responded tomorrow, or next week…
  • METHOD: Then I’m onto the method – how could I best meet the needs of this communication interaction. Is email it? Usually not. Phone call? yep – I’m making a lot more of those at the moment (and again that’s an assumption this will be inefficient but I can tell you it’s not). Instant Message? Text? Skype? Conference Call? Social Network? ESN?
  • START: Then… and only then, I deliver what I think is best, at the time I think is best. And with compassion.

Does all that sound time consuming and laborious? Well, I guess it might. It felt incredibly clunky when I started doing it. But after a short time I realised how much more time I was creating for myself in my working day. As I sent less emails, I received less – and the quality of my communications with colleagues seemed to get better and better (from my perspective).

And from others’ perspective? Well – I didn’t hear any complaints. No one said I became unresponsive. No one complained. Work seemed to happen just as it did before. I didn’t miss any deadlines.

So, I’ve stopped sending emails saying “Thanks”.

If someone invites me to a meeting using their calendar app, I’ve stopped sending an auto reply if I Accept or Decline the meeting, unless that individual really needs to know my response.

So, for example if I get invited to something along with 20 other people, I just figure they don’t really want 20 emails coming into their inbox saying Accepted / Declined and they’ll just go to the calendar event tracker itself to follow up. Again, no one complained.

If people send me stuff that’s of interest I don’t get into email banter about it – I just look at it as and when is the right time for me.

It’s all about finding different things to do than choose email as the default – and it’s really interesting what comes up. I’ve found it fascinating how my work relationships have changed and blossomed when I looked up from the screen. I’m talking to a lot more people and I feel I understand them better and that they understand me.

So, simple – but not easy. If you want less email in your life – STOP SENDING EMAILS!

Getting Started With #NoEmail (Part 2) – “Unsubscribe”

unsubscribe-message

In this series I explore my Top Ten Tips to slay the email beast, unpacking some of the methods I’ve used to reduce my email use by over 50% in the last four months and create stacks of time to do more interesting and productive things.

This post focuses on what I call “Content Bombs” – emails that drop into your inbox unexpected at the most inopportune moments and completely destroy your focus and attention.

They are the stealth bombers of the email world. Feats of technical online marketing ingenuity. Their power is witnessed with awe as they explode in glorious technicolour (or Pantone) in your inbox.

They know when you’re at your most vulnerable, even if you don’t. They know what you like to buy and when you like to buy it and they know what interests you.

Well, of course they do – you told them.

You asked for them to come.

You subscribed.

All I really want to share with you in this post is that you have a choice. I worked out recently that I was dealing with loads of content bombs every day. I thought they were interesting, even useful. Often they took me down a lovely rabbit hole of information and sometimes, just sometimes, something useful would come up.

Frequently, I would procrastinate.

Over time, I realised that although these emails had some interest and relevance, they weren’t adding much value to my working day. I also realised that in 100% of cases, I could find the content on the internet just as easily as having it dumped in my inbox. I could find it when I wanted to rather than have it imposed on me and tempting me with diversionary delights.

Dark Playground people

So I took drastic measures. I ‘unsubscribed’ from every single content bomb I signed up to.

It actually took me months. It was amazing how many I had signed up to and the process I had to go through to get out of their grip…

  • Some of them were conscious sign ups like industry newsletters.
  • Some were more subversive sign ups, like when I’d entered my email address as a new sign in for some new service or other, and then started to receive all their other regular content.
  • Some were relatively easy to unsubscribe from within a couple of clicks.
  • Some stopped emailing me straight away.
  • Some persisted and I had to unsubscribe multiple times before the emails stopped.
  • Some were more complicated to unsubscribe from, requiring website sign-in and changing email notification preferences, or even deleting my account.
  • Some were plain evil and offered no way to unsubscribe. Any organisation falling into this category, I blocked and marked as SPAM… and swore at my screen for good measure.

Eventually after two or three months it started to have a real effect and now both my personal and work emails are pretty much content bomb free! Occasionally I get a little explosion in my inbox (no giggling on the back row), but I can easily handle it. I’m still unsubscribing straight away from any new sign ups that result in unwanted content.

Now, the critics among you might be saying “but surely you’re missing out”.

Listen, think about this – with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yammer, RSS feeds and the whole of the WWW to search whenever I want, do you really think I’m missing out on valuable content? If I want to find out about the latest course, the latest news, the latest events, innovations and ideas, the latest productivity tips, dance craze or cat videos, I am only ever a few clicks away from a multiverse of relevant content.

Only now I’m in control, and I’m getting so much less email.

So much less!

Getting Started with #NoEmail (Part 1) – “Accept You Have a Problem!”

Rehab-Clinic

Email is an addiction. Not necessarily yours, but society’s.

The user (society or you) needs to have a certain amount of it just to maintain a normal life. Taking email away from the user would cause a big reaction. Perhaps it could be perceived as harmful to withdraw from its use (to you, your organisation or society’s wellbeing). After all, how could society, or business, or you, function effectively without using it? Work just wouldn’t get done, right?

And like all addictions, some people and businesses over-use emails. It becomes a serious habit. The daily activity of an organisation (or you) becomes based around the need to get work done by processing more and more emails. And the processes an organisation uses get built around the email functionality so that authorisation, approval, consent checking, collaboration, audit trails, commendation, networking, project management and so on, all get hooked into the email loop.

Nothing, but nothing happens without email. And while no organisation would openly admit to running their business via email, secretly, behind closed doors, this is what’s happening all over the world.

Now, I’m not saying email is as bad for your health as some very addictive substances and I’m not using the analogy in order to belittle the plight of those who are addicted to them. I use it to demonstrate a point. There are parallels in email use to addictive behaviours and the results are not good, for you or your business. And like most (if not all) addictions, beating it starts with accepting that there is a problem.

So let’s try out a few things that could potentially be accepted!..

  • Accept that email has all kinds of inherent problems that you know are driving you just a little off the rails.. that there’s too much of it. That your organisation actually employs people to manage it on your, or others’ behalf. That you don’t always get a response. That you spend an inordinate amount of time processing it.
  • Accept that it interrupts your day and demands your attention when you’d rather be doing Something Else. When it would be better and more productive for you to be doing Something Else. And that sometimes you feel like you never get to the Something Else because you’re too busy managing your Inbox.
  • Accept that in some way, email is a crutch for you. As your Inbox fills up it somehow influences you and tells you what to do and when to do it… and this sometimes feels nice. There’s some enjoyment in the methodical process of keeping your inbox organised; reading, filing, deleting, forwarding, replying, flagging, task creation… and again, and again and again. The structure of the process is like a comfy chair. It keeps you nice and secure. You know exactly what you’re doing with email – its management requires adherance to a strict set of rules, cultural practices and norms which everybody appears to play by. Work happens.
  • Accept also, that there are other ways to get work done, which might actually be better for you and your organisation, if only you could tip the balance…

There. That wasn’t so hard. So, if you feel comfortable enough, why not try on these acceptances for size!…

  • Accept that when you get back from holiday, you secretly enjoy bragging about how many emails you received while you were away. In fact, a day catching up on emails is far easier than talking to anyone or doing any real work. You kinda like the fact you don’t have to ‘think’ too hard on your first day back.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way to keep secrets from others and you like to use this to keep certain people in their place by BCC-ing some and not others and CC-ing others and not some, and putting a few special people in the ‘To’ field and hundreds (if not thousands) of your colleagues in a field somewhere far, far away, because they’re not included at all; because they weren’t important enough to receive the information in this beautifully crafted email you’re sending.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way for you to play out your insecurities; because it would not be right if there was no audit trail of the conversation you just had. Because you don’t trust that people will do what you asked and you don’t trust yourself to remember what was said. And, like I nearly dared to say, you are an insecure human being.
  • Accept that you delegate tasks by email and that this probably doesn’t work that well. No one ever trained you to delegate by email – but you do it all the time, because if you do it buys you more time; because hot damn you can do without actually progressing that piece of work ‘today‘ (and you know the recipient is on leave and this issue will park just fine until they get back).
  • Accept that you really really enjoy putting a long technical explanatory email together that you’re going to have to send to a lot of people and that you often think this is the best way to communicate your idea or plan to more than five people rather than phone them individually or set up a meeting, cause they’re expensive time wasting methods… right?
  • Accept that you don’t actually want to speak to the other people because sometimes you’re a bit of an introvert and email feels easier to get your thoughts down than shooting from the hip in a phone or face to face conversation.

Phew. I feel quite exhausted.

Of course, I’m not really talking about you. These are all things which I accepted for myself. Perhaps some will ring true for you, perhaps not (I’d be interested to know!). Either way, chances are if you got this far in this post, then something has sparked your interest.

Something has got you to the end of this without giving up and that’s because you know there’s something rotten in the state of our communication.

And the only person who can do anything about it – is YOU!

 

This post was reproduced as an excerpt from an original and much longer post called 10 Top Tips To Slay The Email Beast

Getting Started with #NoEmail – 10 Top Tips To Slay The Email Beast

Getting-Started-with-a-Capability-Model

If you’re going to coach the swimming team, at some point you’re going to have to get in the water

The above quote is from the person who coined the phrase “No-Email” back in… the day. Seriously, you’ll have to do your own research if you want to know exactly when #NoEmail was started. Or ask him, his name is Paul Jones. ‘The Real Paul Jones’ in fact and you can find him on the internet in various places – he blogs here and tweets here and you can listen to him being a real life human being and talking about his #NoEmail journey here:

Can you really get results through #NoEmail?

Paul and other good folk I’ve been hanging out with online, have been inspiring me to practice methods of reducing my use and dependence on email. I’ve been experiencing the benefits of this and blogging about my journey towards a Life Without Email in a couple of previous posts here and here.

The benefits as I see them are more than the transactional / statistical evidence that my email activity has reduced; it’s more about the quality of interactions that I now feel I’m having with colleagues has changed – and the amount of time I have available to do work that I think of as ‘real work’ has increased.

But for those statisticians out there, you’re welcome to scrutinise my results (and ask questions of course). I’d suggest you try to avoid comparing yourself to my average ‘numbers’ of Sent emails and thinking:

‘wow, he has never really had a problem – I send like, 200 emails a day!’

or conversely:

“wow, he hasn’t made any progress at all; I send way less than that and I’m not even trying!’

The point is, it’s going down

IMG_3543

How to get started

The thing that finally triggered me into getting started in earnest, was Paul’s comment above. I think I had been moaning about email for so long I’d disengaged with the part of myself that realised I could take action.

The story I had been telling myself was that it was “too hard”; that there was “no point when everyone else uses email anyway”; and “how the hell am I going to have any influence in changing the behaviours of 5000+ employees in my email soaked organisation, huh?”

Then I read Paul’s quote. And I realised I didn’t have to influence the behaviour of 5000 people. I just had to influence my own.

As the title of this post promises, I’m going to open up a list of my Top Ten Tips to help you get started with a #NoEmail approach and an easier and better life at work. I’m going to delve into the detail of each Tip in future posts, starting with No. 1 in this post…

I have to admit these ideas are not all mine – all of them have been tried and tested by others who have inspired me and influenced me, like Paul Jones, Luis Suarez and Claire Burge, to name but a few.

But the ‘list’ is something I’ve conjured up. It came out of a desire to note down the things that I tried out first and really helped me get a handle on what I could actively, practically do, without relying on anyone else to change. This, for me, is the most important thing. If I’d waited around for the conditions to be perfect to make a behaviour change, I could have waited forever.

It is that simple… one email at a time, I can change how I work. And when I change the way i work, I’m changing the way other people work with me. So, so simple. A ‘Zen Slap‘ moment.

So, how to get in the water…

  1. Accept You Have A Problem

  2. Unsubscribe! (from ‘Content Bombs’)

  3. Stop Sending Emails

  4. Stop Checking for Emails

  5. Start Conversations In Other Worlds

  6. “Email is where knowledge goes to die” (or: Stop Filing Everything)

  7. Reduce your BACN

  8. Stop Reacting, Start Responding

  9. Help Others With Their Work

  10. Shout “NoEmail” from the hilltops!

And, as promised, I’m going to start this series with unpacking…

Number 1: Accept You Have A Problem! 

Rehab-Clinic

Email is an addiction. Not necessarily yours, but society’s.

The user (society or you) needs to have a certain amount of it just to maintain a normal life. Taking email away from the user would cause a big reaction. Perhaps it could be perceived as harmful to withdraw from its use (to you, your organisation or society’s wellbeing). After all, how could society, or business, or you, function effectively without using it? Work just wouldn’t get done, right?

And like all addictions, some people and businesses over-use emails. It becomes a serious habit. The daily activity of an organisation (or you) becomes based around the need to get work done by processing more and more emails. And the processes an organisation uses get built around the email functionality so that authorisation, approval, consent checking, collaboration, audit trails, commendation, networking, project management and so on, all get hooked into the email loop.

Nothing, but nothing happens without email. And while no organisation would openly admit to running their business via email, secretly, behind closed doors, this is what’s happening all over the world.

Now, I’m not saying email is as bad for your health as some very addictive substances and I’m not using the analogy in order to belittle the plight of those who are addicted to them. I use it to demonstrate a point. There are parallels in email use to addictive behaviours and the results are not good, for you or your business. And like most (if not all) addictions, beating it starts with accepting that there is a problem.

So let’s try out a few things that could potentially be accepted!..

  • Accept that email has all kinds of inherent problems that you know are driving you just a little off the rails.. that there’s too much of it. That your organisation actually employs people to manage it on your, or others’ behalf. That you don’t always get a response. That you spend an inordinate amount of time processing it.
  • Accept that it interrupts your day and demands your attention when you’d rather be doing Something Else. When it would be better and more productive for you to be doing Something Else. And that sometimes you feel like you never get to the Something Else because you’re too busy managing your Inbox.
  • Accept that in some way, email is a crutch for you. As your Inbox fills up it somehow influences you and tells you what to do and when to do it… and this sometimes feels nice. There’s some enjoyment in the methodical process of keeping your inbox organised; reading, filing, deleting, forwarding, replying, flagging, task creation… and again, and again and again. The structure of the process is like a comfy chair. It keeps you nice and secure. You know exactly what you’re doing with email – its management requires adherance to a strict set of rules, cultural practices and norms which everybody appears to play by. Work happens.
  • Accept also, that there are other ways to get work done, which might actually be better for you and your organisation, if only you could tip the balance…

There. That wasn’t so hard. So, if you feel comfortable enough, why not try on these acceptances for size!…

  • Accept that when you get back from holiday, you secretly enjoy bragging about how many emails you received while you were away. In fact, a day catching up on emails is far easier than talking to anyone or doing any real work. You kinda like the fact you don’t have to ‘think’ too hard on your first day back.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way to keep secrets from others and you like to use this to keep certain people in their place by BCC-ing some and not others and CC-ing others and not some, and putting a few special people in the ‘To’ field and hundreds (if not thousands) of your colleagues in a field somewhere far, far away, because they’re not included at all; because they weren’t important enough to receive the information in this beautifully crafted email you’re sending.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way for you to play out your insecurities; because it would not be right if there was no audit trail of the conversation you just had. Because you don’t trust that people will do what you asked and you don’t trust yourself to remember what was said. And, like I nearly dared to say, you are an insecure human being.
  • Accept that you delegate tasks by email and that this probably doesn’t work that well. No one ever trained you to delegate by email – but you do it all the time, because if you do it buys you more time; because hot damn you can do without actually progressing that piece of work ‘today‘ (and you know the recipient is on leave and this issue will park just fine until they get back).
  • Accept that you really really enjoy putting a long technical explanatory email together that you’re going to have to send to a lot of people and that you often think this is the best way to communicate your idea or plan to more than five people rather than phone them individually or set up a meeting, cause they’re expensive time wasting methods… right?
  • Accept that you don’t actually want to speak to the other people because sometimes you’re a bit of an introvert and email feels easier to get your thoughts down than shooting from the hip in a phone or face to face conversation.

Phew. I feel quite exhausted.

Of course, I’m not really talking about you. These are all things which I accepted for myself. Perhaps some will ring true for you, perhaps not (I’d be interested to know!). Either way, chances are if you got this far in this post, then something has sparked your interest.

Something has got you to the end of this without giving up and that’s because you know there’s something rotten in the state of our communication.

And the only person who can do anything about it – is YOU!

#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…   

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.