declaring independence from email, with baby steps

I am fed up with work email.

I am up to my eyeballs in email.

I am now working out of my inbox. BTW, that is NOT multi-tasking, that’s being interrupt-driven. Email comes in and I feel obligated to handle it immediately.

This is partially my own fault, for keeping Notes open and up front all day long, but I believe as a culture, we’ve come to expect this kind of behavior.

I’m a pointy-headed manager, and I can’t give up email entirely, like Luis did.

But I can take a few steps to liberate myself from the ball and chain that is email, and at the same time, reset some expectations.

Here’s a first shot – this is a work in progress and I’d love suggestions on further steps or clarifications.

Premise #1: Email will be processed a few times each day, NOT all day.

I will be processing email first thing in the work day, at lunchtime, and at the end of my working day (4pm). I MAY check email at other times of the day or night, but that is totally at my discretion. If you send an email after 4pm, the likelihood is that I won’t read it til the next day. If it is urgent, call or sametime.

Premise #2: No project-based email should be sent. Ever.

I don’t want to receive email about any current project. I don’t want status, meeting minutes, meeting agendas, documents or project discussions and collateral residing in my inbox. They belong in a collaborative workspace … wikis, teamrooms, blogs.

Premise #3: I don’t/can’t answer every email.

I receive hundreds of emails every. single. day. Hundreds. I don’t have a secretary or a personal assistant. This means I work in triage mode, like M*A*S*H. If you need an acknowledgment that I have received your email, use the return receipt feature in Notes. Likewise, if you need something done by a specific date, let me know what that date is, and then don’t bother me, or my boss, until/unless the date has passed.

Or am I out of line here? Is every request due an acknowledgment of receipt? A “yes, I got your email and I’m working it?” God, I hope not.

That’s it for now.

I have more, but my lunch hour is almost over, and I still need to check email.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

8 thoughts on “declaring independence from email, with baby steps

  1. Hi Kelly,

    Premise #1 sounds reasonable but it really comes down to your ability to process hundreds of emails so I can’t say if you’ll succeed or not. Like it or not, it’s part of the job.

    I completely agree with #2. Project-based email should never be sent.

    I think you are way off base with Premise #3. We all receive hundreds of emails every day, but not all of them require a response and only a small percentage of them are sent directly to us. We are copied on things that are just FYI (BTW, I use the notes feature that shows if I’m in the “To” box or “CC/BCC” box which is VERY helpful), we get automated emails etc. I DO think we are required to respond to emails where we are the only recipient and we have been asked a direct question. Notes receipts only tell us that it was opened but not if it was read/understood and do not set our expectations in any way. How do I know if someone has read it and deleted it?

    To your final question, not every email needs a “Got it, working on it” response but at some point, by not responding at all (a day, two days, three days, depending on the subject matter…) we are giving the impression that we are not going to respond. I know that I’ve done that and I see them in my Inbox and I feel the pressure to do something with them.

    Finally, work-based invitations should all get a response. Unless you get to the invite beyond the meeting time/date I personally think it’s rude to let those go and I’m constantly annoyed when they are ignored.

    My $.02.


  2. Doing a little more reading on the interwebs, following the breadcrumbs from Luis’ Giving Up on Email campaign, I see I have made the second most classic blunder* in the history of the world: attempting to deal with the consequences of bad behavior, without attempting to change the behavior, both my own and others.

    Don’t subscribe to email alerts … use RSS feeds instead
    Don’t send blanket emails … write a blog post instead.
    Don’t mail powerpoint presentations around. Use a teamroom or a wiki.

    A change I have made recently is to NOT send out the ritual “Where’s Kelly?” email to my team when I’m going to be out of the office for an appt or something. I now send a Sametime Announcement to my teams, which appears as a desktop alert to those online and doesn’t clutter up everyone’s inbox.

    And don’t even get me STARTED on meeting etiquette. There’s another series of blog posts! 🙂

    *The most famous blunder, as any fan of the movie The Princess Bride knows, is “never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

  3. The way I see it, e-mail, RSS feeds, voice mail, etc all the same thing – forms of communication. The real question to ask is “How much communication/information do I tell people that I need?” If people get the idea that you need to know everything, they will tell you everything. If they figure you can get by without it, they won’t copy you. And of course, some people have a need to send information regardless of what vibe you send out.

  4. The pressure to respond and also explain the lack of response seems severe for you, kpuf. If you have that muck to do every day, and you are also expected to respond with proper spelling and punctuation= ect. then I can really relate. No one should have to much to spell chech. Although, a lot of great minds have been able to.

    Then Carly Fiorina became president and we annexed Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and oil was discovered and we became better for it. Or not.

    My hope advice is that jimself and the rest are still alive and all the streaming words that invade your space aren’t a weight against your metaphysical wellbeing. A well deserved foggy morning without email, blogs or idiots like me seems in order.

    Of course, after that morning, what is echo nest? I tried this is my jam and don’t get through? I would if I had a badge at the conference? Please, really, peace


  5. Oh dear. I seem to have upset a number of people with this blog entry. That’s what I get for trying to do a work-related blog post, I guess.

    I am reminded of what Anna at wrote recently about the perils of writing a crankypants blog post.

    Go now, and read it. And then put her blog in your RSS reader, because she is the blogger I want to be when I grow up. She’s that good.

    And then rest assured that I am no longer dwelling on the injustices of email but have moved on to more exciting subjects like my wonderful new sunglasses I just bought and the IBM web 2.0 summit I’ll be attending next week.


  6. Too much email = BAD

    While email has a lot of good uses, too many folks run their life from their inbox. I switched to checking email just a few times a day based on this:

    I watched the hour long video over lunch and took what I could… its helping me get more done and I do not believe it’s causing a problem. With more than 200 emails a day and climbing… I needed a method to help my balance email processing with my other goals.

  7. reducing project based email is SO important. I agree project communication should be based on Activities or some other teamroom or collaborative space, especially in a global Enterprise. Makes life SO much easier!

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