Category: Work

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Empathy Mapping

Recently at work I’ve been progressing at a full on pace with a programme and multiple projects, some of which I’m involved in, some of which I just need to be involved enough in to keep up with what’s going on.

Success (if that can ever be truly measured…) depends on a whole crate of plates being spun; a whole flock of ducks being lined up; way too many flags being flown up a multitude of expectant flagpoles, and an enormous field full of tents being pitched… the mind boggles.

And to get through the boggling, I have been doing lots of stakeholder analysis. Quite frankly, it’s not a job I enjoy. So far I have a list of over 130 named stakeholders and ten or so email circulation lists which I need in order to communicate effectively [anyone who has been following my #noemail series of posts will recognise the sarcasm and deep irony I’m holding in that last sentence].

Every time something shifts in the cosmos with a stakeholder I have a pang of anxiety that I probably need to update my Stakeholder Analysis tool. It’s important for me not to treat it as a diversion or procrastination, so I make sure I’m not in there more than once every few weeks, otherwise it gets overwhelming. The intent is for a check in only, once in a while. There’s an element of self management going on there though!

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I say I don’t enjoy it, but I have to admit how useful it has been. I’m not just putting people in boxes like the diagram above, but also rating how my relationship is with that individual or group at the current time. This points to what action I need to take and is useful in highlighting trends and issues with particular communities of people.

I notice I’m more resistant to talking to some people I know less well and feel less confident with and so the exercise is a good prompt for me to pick up the phone, drop by someone’s office for a face to face or arrange a meeting. So something that recently helped was when a colleague pointed me toward the idea of Empathy Mapping.

Empathy Mapping takes the process of Stakeholder Analysis even further and more helpfully gets me into the mindset of the people I’m trying to work with or ‘get on board’ [the bus, or the boat, or the flock of seagulls or whatever…].

I haven’t Empathy Mapped all 130 people I’m working with, but where I don’t know someone too well, the process has opened up new thinking for me and helped me prepare for phone calls, communications and meetings. In essence this is prompting me to think about what someone else is Thinking, Feeling, Seeing, Hearing and Saying in relation to the work I’m doing. It’s a more humanistic approach the stakeholder analysis… and I like it.

Enjoy!

Permaculture Design in Local Government

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One problem with trying to apply permaculture design to Local Government systems change, is that there are so many clients. When I was completing my Permaculture Design Certificate last year, most of the case studies we used had one main client. Plenty of stakeholders, yes. But one client. In some of the examples the client was ‘me’. Which made the consultation, observation, and specification of design a lot easier.

Shifting into a local government context:

  • Fact: Most systems changes or service redesigns start as ideas thought up by managers.
  • Fact: Most ideas being thought up at the moment in public services involve trying to save money.

So, who is the client here?

  • We have elected politicians; the leaders of the Council and decision makers… they provide vision and direction and are the client of any change process.
  • Senior execs and managers certainly are a client, working out how to execute the plans and decisions that the politicians make.
  • So are the teams that deliver the work, undergo and ultimately feel the effects of any systems change.
  • And so are the service users who really, REALLY are the most important client

The top down structure of that list is there to demonstrate a more subtle point; it’s arguable that politicians represent the desires and needs of the public / communities that elect them, therefore creating a kind of closed loop of Clients. But sometimes that loop is broken or the communication does not flow so well…

So from a permaculture design perspective when we would normally start by identifying who the client is before coming up with even the faintest notion of an idea for change, that in itself can be quite a challenge in Local Government. Not insurmountable but complex and requiring a lot of energy input at the beginning and again and again. It is a problem to solve: where to start with systems change?

In practice for me, this has meant moving through flowing spirals of work rather than linear project timelines. Survey and Analysis stages of a design need to be revisited over and over as new information and requirements are fed into the process. I think (and I am no expert) this has a parallel with AGILE more than PRINCE2 or MSP. It certainly feels a better fit from a permaculture perspective. The process is iterative. Even from a Requirements point of view (rather than client Requirements being very fixed and only alterable via the strictest of change control processes).

I guess the point of this post is to say that in local government there are Clients everywhere. As an officer trying to execute the plans or ideas, my job is to ensure that those client requirements are met to the best of my abilities. For me the starting point of any redesign should always be the end user of a service. They should provide the user experience (UX) desired or required in order to inform any process. Tension appears when the user experience doesn’t match the requirements of the decision makers.

Sometimes, conflict can arise out of there being just too many identifiable clients all with differing needs and desires and a difficulty in public services can come from a need to take more money and resources out of the system, which is exactly what a lot of our customers don’t want. The skill is in balancing all of these factors and creating the right conditions for change to happen – finding the opportunities between the gaps and at the edges…

Digital Catapult Brighton: Placemaking

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Last night in the hot, hot city, a happening happened. A taster event for the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton to open up a discussion on digital technology, innovation, art, culture, design and #placemaking.

Here’s a copy of the programme:

I found it really thought provoking. Especially the stuff from Peter Passaro on data and how it could be used to support social change; creating a better city, a better place for everyone to live in. And there was something visionary about a city data centre which everyone (yes everyone!) put their data into that was ‘owned’ by the people of Brighton and Hove.

It made me reflect on what I was doing at this event. I’m no tech expert. I don’t work in the sector. I am an unlikely candidate for catapulting!

But there is something in all of this that fascinates me. A belief that technology can support the building of communities and the ‘rehumanisation’ of work and play.

In some circles there’s a pervasive feeling that technology is going to ‘dehumanise’ work, eventually taking over people’s jobs – and that in a dark future, the robots will assume control and humans will become ‘redundant’.

I don’t think this way. I believe if we ethically harness the power of digital technology we can do some amazing things to support communities to be healthier, happier and more resilient and self sustaining. I want to support the tech sector to help the public and voluntary sectors make that social change happen and the presentations we saw inspired me to continue on that journey.

What I heard from Liz was that digital technology not only has value as a medium for creating art but also that there is art to be found in the collection of ‘people and place data’ – beauty in a 3G signal!

I also loved Ava’s answer to the audience question about the Screens In The Wild project: “Do we really need more screens?”, which was simply “No!” – a Zen Slap moment of realisation that what we were learning about here, was research and development in action; a design process – not a market product…

And so this event came with a warning, which was nicely picked up by Jenny Lloyd in her opening presentation: all design should be informed by and start with User Experience (UX). People first, right? Without user experience informing the show, the tail of technology wags the dog of design… and we end up with a dog’s dinner of a development.

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How To Find Fulfilling Work

Someone prompted me to remember this little quote today:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Lawrence Pearsall Jacks; “Education Through Recreation” 1932

It evokes something of what I aspire to and sometimes experience. I originally found it in the book “How To Find Fulfilling Work” by Roman Krznaric. It’s a bloody good read and has some really interesting methods and exercises to help you work through the process of finding… well, the title says it.

Come to think of it, I might well need to read it again!

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