103H

I killed email! (for a day)

Today, 5/5/2015 is No Email Day. Set up in 2010, the movement encourages folks to give up their addiction to the inbox for day and look for other ways to work. My company like many, has invested heavily in digital workplace technologies creating many ways for employees to connect and collaborate so, in theory, my abandoning email should be plain sailing. Theory is one thing – how was it in practice?

I started the day by setting an out of office message so that folks inside and outside of the business knew what was going on. It simply read: “Today is #noemailday. I will not be accessing email but will be working as normal. You can reach me by Lync, WebEx, Chatter, Chat, SharePoint, Twitter, Jabber, LinkedIn, text or even call me”. It seems we’re not short of ways to connect with colleagues so I wonder why restricting my access to Outlook felt like a digital amputation.

But I encountered 4 problems

Problem Task One: Get a file to my boss as requested this morning

On an ordinary day, this is easy: I’d open Outlook and send him the file but obviously that option wasn’t available to me. I toyed with the idea of uploading the file to SharePoint somewhere and then sending him the link but (yea, you’re ahead of me), how do I get the link to him?

Another option discounted was to use Chatter, our enterprise social network. Discounted After a casual inspection of his profile, it was clear to me that he wouldn’t be casually visiting any day soon and I’d miss my deadline if I posted there.

I opted for tagging him for status changes on Lync and getting on with other tasks until he came online. Once online, we chatted and I shared the file via IM. Truth told, I think we chatted more during the day today than we do normally.

Problem Task Two: Checking what I’d sent

A colleague in France needed some materials that I’d sent (… maybe thought I’d sent) and helpfully pinged me on Lync to ask. Of course, without logging into Outlook I have no way of checking if this is my mistake in not actually sending, her mistake in not finding it or deleting it, or some system error on the journey between the inboxes. We couldn’t resolve so this one waits until I return to email tomorrow.

Problem Task Three: Calendaring

Like every salary slave, I’m at the beck and call of both my inbox and my calendar. I’m required to be places and attend meetings and the only way I can keep track is via my calendar but like so many other people, my calendar is intrinsically connected to my inbox. Invitations, cancellations and amendments are all managed via my inbox which meant that when things changed, I often wasn’t aware throughout the day. That’s not to say I missed meetings: all the updates appeared in my diary, it’s just that I wasn’t necessarily aware that they were updates.

The bigger issue was that when Outlook was open for my calendar, it notified me about all the emails I was missing; teased me with the notion that there were 50+ unread, bright red, emails needing a response just one tab away. It’s a crazy anxiety but I confess it was there.

Problem Task Four: My inbox is my library

Today, I needed a licence key for a piece of software I’d bought several years back and was re-installing on my laptop. The problem here is a problem that has been years in the making and here’s the confession: I use my inbox as my document library.

Need that powerpoint presentation? Search my inbox

Need to re-send a file? Search my inbox

And today, need a licence key? Search my inbox. Well, I would have done but I’m banned from accessing my email. Truth is, I didn’t resolve this problem either. The software was never installed and I’ve merely postponed the job for tomorrow.

Kill Email? Not so much

I didn’t kill email. I was able to get an awful lot done, was no less productive but I did need to think on my feet all day. On so many occasions, I was close to throwing in the towel and opening up email once again but I’m glad I persevered. Grateful too for a handful of colleagues who were also flexible and used other channels to reach me such as Lync and DM on Twitter so in a way, while it was my #noemailday, I know it helped others think outside the inbox too.

I also note that two tasks were merely postponed for when I can access email again. My iPhone tells me I have 88 unread emails to work through tomorrow including, hilariously, one email from a colleague was was only sent to get my out of office message to see if I was really doing it! (I know about this email because they IMed me. I had several copied and pasted instant messages from emails)

What did I learn?

  1. That I’m using my inbox as a file store and I need to get smarter, quickly. I need to get files away from email and into other, more accessible stores. It’s nearly always the files I need and not the email detritus around it.
  2. That this only works if our networks do it. My team were accommodating and made switches themselves throughout the day, but to state the obvious, I cannot use instant message if my boss does not. My failure with our ESN today was simply that the community isn’t strong enough nor regular enough for me to know for sure that the folks I need will drop by. It requires us all to make changes.
  3. That email is asynchronous and that most other channels are synchronous. This took a while to sink in. Email is great because it’s asynchronous. I send whilst online, you receive whilst online but a whole heap of time and levels of connectivity can pass between the two. Better still, if my deadline for sending is 10:00, I can meet that by only worrying about my connectivity – what time you eventually log on to collect it is your business and the timestamp on the email won’t lie. Instant message or instant meeting technologies rely on simultaneous connection. Much of my work today relied on my finding the window when both parties were available.

UPDATE:

  1. I’ve realised that I’m a bit addicted to email. The alerts generate a Pavlovian response in me to check my inbox. The little numbers on the apps eat away at me until I open the app and read. I worry about what’s in my inbox in a way that I never worry about IM, ESN or Twitter. I need to break the habit and that means trying it again and again. I’ll be attempting another noemailday again soon.

How was your #noemailday? If you’d like to give it a go, let me know.