It’s now just over a month since I declared my intention to go email free in 2015. Here are some reflections.

#NoEmail can be done. Already it has changed the way I work, helped me get more organised, more efficient and more productive. I’ve also seen noticeably reduced stress levels over the month, which has been great for the people around me — although I’d attribute that equally to the impacts of the exercise regime I’ve given myself.

Let’s start with the confession…

In January I sent 22 emails.

Although that’s a massive reduction on my previous 100+, my original aim was to send no more than 15 in the whole of 2015. I absolutely could have sent less and I’m still fully expecting to eliminate email almost entirely this year, but I started carefully. I’m well aware that this experiment is about making improvements to communication, not pissing people off by refusing to connect in a way that suits them.

The Positives

These are the things that have gone well in the first month. I’ve thrown in some suggestions that may help you, if you fancy reducing your own email traffic.

Reduced Email

I have all but stopped the relentless flow of email into my inbox. The noise is reduced too. If anything arrives that I don’t want or need, I unsubscribe or delete. It means that when I do check my inbox, anything there requires my attention and I can look for more appropriate ways to continue the conversation.

These are the main platforms I’m using as appropriate, instead of email:

•Phone
•Twitter
•Skype
•WhatsApp
•LinkedIn
•Google+/ Hangouts/ Drive
•Facebook/ Messenger App
•Uskape/ Glip/ Slack
•OneDrive/ Dropbox

Where possible, I’m being creative too — for example finding ways to communicate more visually, using Instagram.

Tip: Think about how you communicate and the reasons. Look at alternatives to email for each purpose and start experimenting.

Checking Less

Because I’m less reliant on email, I’ve reduced checking it to once a day — usually in the afternoon. In fact, I rarely ever start the email programme on my computer and do the cursory daily check via my phone. On the phone, I’ve removed the email notification counter from the lock screen, avoiding constant reminders to check email.

By checking less, I have more time, get less distracted and it’s impacting on the way I work. The fear of missing something important, or not responding quickly enough disappeared very quickly. If something’s important enough, they will phone and I haven’t yet found an email that couldn’t wait a few hours for a respnse.

In an interesting Twitter conversation this month, @MervynDinnen made the great point that good news comes by phone, bad news by email. So reducing how often you stare at your inbox, might have an impact on your positivity too.

Tip: Turn off in-your-face email reminders and set yourself a maximum of 3 (ideally less) dedicated times in the day to check your email.

More Organised

I’m actively driving conversations down the most appropriate channels and finding better ways to share files, communicate and (although I dislike this buzzword of the moment) collaborate. Since my days as a public sector records manager nearly a decade ago, the multiple versions of files created by attachments and using Cc has really bugged me, so I’m finally ending it.

Onedrive and Dropbox have become my go-to places, sharing folders and files from a single location rather than attaching and sending. As an unexpected side-effect, this has made me more organised.

I have various pieces of work that require me to provide photos of myself. Instead of finding an appropriate one, attaching then sending, I’ve created a folder in One Drive with all my decent photos in it. When I need to provide photos, I just send a link to the folder directly from the file sharing app and let the recipient select the most appropriate one for their use. I’m taking the same approach with shared work and in general, any files I need to share for any reason.

As well as being quicker and making me keep my files organised, it also gives me far better control over versions and keeping things up to date. Comments and revisions can be added or swapped-in directly at source and as an unexpected bi-product of reduced email I find I’m far better at calendar control/ updating — I can’t just rely on a combination of memory and a flagged mail.

Tip: Instead of attachments, try using OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive.

More Productive

#NoEmail has made me think about every message I send, whatever the platform. Sometimes, we send emails where a simple acknowledgement would suffice. Twitter favourites and Facebook Likes are great for preventing that kind of unnecessary, time consuming and inbox filling response.

Because I’m thinking about what information/ conversation needs to be passed, with whom, when and why, I’m driving my conversations through appropriate platforms. Everything is much more considered, structured and has a purpose.

I’m really keen on email-free productivity tools and over the last month I’ve ramped up my use of Uskape and experimented with Slack and Glip too. I’ll probably review them in a future post, but they’re all useful and provide far better platforms for productivity and team working than a reliance on email.

I’ve started experimenting with audio notes too. My friend @Ingridium introduced me to an entrepreneurship MOOC from MIT. It seemed interesting, so we decided to both work through it and share our thoughts. As I came through the first section, I recorded my thoughts as audio, then uploaded it to a Glip conversation Ingrid had invited me to. When I go in there now, I can clearly see our chats, the files we’ve shared, images and -really usefully- the links we’ve mentioned in our conversation on this particular subject.

Tip: Experiment with Uskape, Glip and Slack. See what other applications are out there for productivity too.

No More Personal Email

The Yahoo! Mail account I set up in 1998 served me well through the email years. By the end of 2014 though, it was a mess of hundreds of daily deal emails, subscriptions and spam — at best a distraction, at worst malicious. Very rarely anything I actually needed popped up and looking at the mammoth effort it would take to untangle it in the way I had done with my work emails, I decided just to give it up.

I’ve 100% given up personal emails. It’s been great. My friends are all on Twitter, facebook, or have my phone number — there’s no reason for email. I’m writing down shipping and booking confirmations in OneNote as they happen and can track progress on websites, so no need to check for those.

I considered a subscription consolidator like Unroll.Me (others are available), but decided that for my purposes I just wanted a clean break.

Tip: Give up your personal emails for a week and see what happens. Try moving all your mailing list subscriptions into a service like unroll.me and see how that impacts your inbox.

In the movies, it always starts with something that spreads. Quickly, the apocalypse hits. Survivors are left walking the desolate landscape with civilisation and communication as we know it destroyed forever. Some try to continue living with the same rules they always had, others realise that to survive they must adapt.

Technology is changing the way we can communicate… is this the start of the email apocalypse?

The Challenges

Despite my best intentions, as it stands I haven’t eliminated email 100%. I could have, but circumstances have held me back. These are the things that were less easy and contributed to me sending 22 emails in a month.

Still Emailing

The #noemail push is related to my experiments with The Work Project. As I’m trying unique ways to make a living, there are some opportunities and instances where accepting an email and replying is far more prudent than trying to convince someone to move the conversation elsewhere.

Also, where I’m working with an organisation who email information, sometimes it’s just easier to accept it. This week, for example, I was sent flight and hotel arrangements for some upcoming speaking slots on The Future of Work. It would have been ridiculous to refuse to confirm via email and doing so would have severely complicated things — the opposite of the #NoEmail purpose.

For those of us who are moving away from email, we still need to appreciate we’re the minority and while we should do what we can to redirect conversations to more appropriate platforms, preaching and refusing will just piss people off. Right now I can’t afford that!

The emails I’ve sent have been minimal though and now don’t impose on my day. I’m still determined to reduce them almost 100% this year, but it may take a few months longer than I thought.

Out of Office

I could have driven even more email traffic elsewhere, but the way my email accounts were set up via Outlook 365 meant that traditional out-of-office couldn’t be applied. I had this great message set up for all new emails as of 5th Jan, but it quickly became apparent that the rules I needed to apply to the mailbox to send it weren’t working and the message was repeating and repeating itself to the same few people. Rather than annoy everyone, I took it down.

My problems here are a good example of the ancient infrastructure that still drives email and the frustrations that make me want to move away from it.

Findings

I’ve come to rely on my phone as my complete communication hub now. I use native apps for everything and rarely use browser versions, or my laptop at all, if I can avoid it. The phone keeps all my communication methods together with instant access, notifications and updates.

Push notifications are essential and help me judge what to address when. They work in a way that seems more controllable than a generic number of unread emails. Because I drive conversations down certain routes I know how urgent certain notifications are likely to be and check them in my own time. It’s only when the phone rings that I know the response required is instant, so my productivity is helped.

My only slight bugbear is the lack of native apps (and therefor push notifications) for some of the productivity tools I use, but I’m assured they’re on their way. It probably doesn’t help that I’m a Windows Phone advocate and wouldn’t swap my Lumia 930 for the world, but I have pretty much everything I need.

Product Hunt

Reliance on email creates a lethargy — most of us accept it as the de facto communication platform. By challenging that, I’ve become far more active in searching for apps and products that help me be more productive and more organised. Product Hunt is a great place to search — ten minutes on there and you’re guaranteed to find a new productivity tool to experiment with.

Tip: Search Productivity on Product Hunt and see what you can find!

The First #NoEmail Month

This has been really positive. Although I haven’t avoided email entirely, many people who are contacting me for the first time are actively acknowledging the experiment and finding other ways to communicate — which we’re all benefiting from.

It’s just the beginning of the project and as my confidence in myself and my own work grows, my ability to reinforce my #NoEmail drive will gain pace. I’ve completely removed personal emails from my life and replaced them with more instant, appropriate ways to communicate, I’m well on the way to doing the same with my work.

The thing is, I just feel better. The stress of watching for emails to drop in or being overwhelmed by the sheer volume has given way to communication once again becoming for communication’s sake. It’s helping me be productive, organised and (most importantly) happy.

I will make exceptions where circumstances dictate, purely because I’m out to make improvements for myself that I hope others will want to share; I’m not out to be difficult or piss people off. This is about removing barriers and improving communication, after all.

#NoEmail Pace Setters

These people are my #NoEmail heroes and have all been very helpful and supportive either directly, by sharing their previous experiments, or embarking on their own versions of #NoEmail in 2015:

@ClaireBurge

@Elsua

@SmallJones

@PerryTimms

@LeeMallon

If you’d like to talk about ways to reduce email, how it’s worked for me, or anything else, I’d love to chat. I’m always available on Twitter @AndySwann… just don’t email me 😉

By Andy Swann on February 6, 2015.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.