I just deleted over 1,000 emails. Many of them were unread.
Over the last couple of weeks I found myself progressively stressed and the ever-increasing number of new and unread emails did nothing to help my panic, documenting my poor response in a spiralling fashion, clocking me every time I checked my phone or computer, reminding me of my horrific tardiness.
After a chaotic few weeks, I grabbed some time yesterday just to take stock. Priority #1 was the ubiquitous ‘catch up on emails’. As I worked through my inbox, the majority of mail fitted into one of three categories:
•Notifications from other systems (which I log in and pick up anyway)
I’d largely dealt with any important messages and those that could be immediately addressed as they came in, but as I cleansed, I discovered a frustrating minority of emails — the lost or missed, but useful ones.
The few emails I really needed to pick up, or would have loved to follow up, which crept into my inbox at a time I wasn’t noticing, lost amidst a slew of LinkedIn notifications (Andy, See how your posts are doing), spam (He he Brunette in car video here watch) and non-event (Latest from IoD Dorset). The emails that, when I finally unearthed them, were either too late to follow up reasonably, expired or required over-zealous apology in an attempt to pick up lapsed conversations.
The original purpose of email was as a better, faster way of getting messages across, improved communication — SnailMail 2.0. By the latter part of 2014, technology has out-evolved the purpose of email, but for most of us, email is ingrained as the de facto method of electronic communication. The opportunity is there, but we’re going to need to change our way of thinking (and working) to catch up with better ways of communicating in the modern world. We’re still in the email as mail mindset.
I rarely check my physical mail as it comes through the door. All my bills are set up online, so anything that isn’t junk mail usually isn’t worth noticing. I can’t remember the last time I received a hand written letter, save the odd birthday card (although these are dwindling in favour of Facebook messages — Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great one!). Occasionally that means Inland Revenue reminders, motor insurance certificates and other things end up in the recycling box. It’s only a matter of weeks ago that on dropping an empty wine bottle into the plastic box by the gate, I noticed the car’s V5 ownership document nestled amongst the leaflets and flyers.
I’m not hugely worried about missing the post. The only niggling concern is that there will be a day when a lost relative (of my white British-Irish family) in Nigeria finally writes to me to request my bank details for the £5m I’m owed by inheritance from our mutual relative, but I’ll take that chance. Oh, actually, it seems he’s just emailed me…
We moved to email as a relief from snail mail. We now need to move to other forms of communication for relief from email.
Rethinking how we’re productive, the methods of communication we use and how we store information are all part of it. There are amazing productivity applications emerging that can manage communication and information sharing around pieces of work — I’m currently testing an early version of Uskape which I can already see has the potential to change my life and form part of the jigsaw that offers me a final move away from email. For social communication we have instant messaging, social networks, photo and file sharing applications. There’s just no reason to rely on email today.
Apart from the fact, it’s the only universal method of communication. Every email address can talk to every other. That’s the last bastion of email’s usefulness (it’s also one of its major downfalls that allows spam) and something the other emerging platforms need to address. Facebook can’t message a LinkedIn profile. Phones call phones, everywhere. A Skype account can’t call Facetime.
But we’re close enough to make shunning email possible. If we all start to do it, communication will evolve to account for that. I used to work for the NHS and shared an office with a genuinely lovely lady named Fiona. She took her job very seriously, but was swamped by email every day. One morning she walked up the corridor to make a cup of tea. On arriving back at her desk, she burst into tears. Having arrived at 7am purely to catch up with emails, as she did every day, over 120 were now sitting in her inbox.
That was ten years ago and email traffic has only worsened.
If we could cut out the unnecessary emails, our inboxes would be emptier, easier to manage. The pressure to communicate would reduce and the noise of useless, sometimes malicious, information would dissipate. We’d also be less likely to miss important information. It’s a cleaner, clearer, less muddled and far more attractive future that I, for one, buy into.
Sure, marketing will change. But we can subscribe to YouTube channels and follow Facebook pages, connect on Twitter — there are better places for content to be hosted and conversations framed, instead of dropping into our inboxes to be ignored and deleted after pretty html images are not downloaded. The thing is, if email disappeared tomorrow, I don’t think we’d be any worse off, we’d be compelled to find a way to make it work and we’d actually have better ways to communicate that reduce stress and increase productivity.
I’ve been privileged to be guest blogging about The Work Project for Claire Burge. Claire and her team at Get Organised are waging a war on email and although I missed Claire speak on the topic at Silicon Beach 2014 due to a school run commitment, I’m now 100% on board with the idea.
Just thinking about email makes me cross.
Here’s my declaration:
As of January 1st 2015, I will attempt to stop using email. I’ll put an auto-respond on every email account I have and not check emails except in exceptional circumstances. I will only use non-email forms of communication unless it’s completely unavoidable.
That’s my personal email account at 10:34 am…
Looking at what I’ve done in the last few weeks, I guess there are probably around 10 instances a year that email has been absolutely necessary, but I’m sure I can get that down with some lateral thinking.
Sure, most people still rely on email and some organisations are only just starting to use it instead of paper communication, but for my own sanity and productivity I’m taking a stand. Change has to start somewhere. I fully expect that by the end of the 2015, I will be completely email free.
By Andy Swann on November 27, 2014.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.