Friday, October 26, 2012

My November Email Experiment #minusEmail

Next week it is the second last month of the year, and 2012 is almost done. So many meetings, so many conversations and wonderful people met. And so many emails...

It has been coming a long time, but I have finally decided to decrease emails substantially in business and personal interaction. And the experiment starts the 1st of November 2012, when I will start my #minusEmail campaign - a mission to convert myself back to better ways of communicating with people. Yes, I have also fallen into the nasty habit of jumping into the email app to quickly to respond to someone, or to address a question.

The article by Shayne Hughes in Forbes made me rethink my use of email. His own experiment was a bit more dramatic:  “All internal e-mail is forbidden for the next week,” he announced to his staff.

He goes on to explain the rationale behind his experiment:

In most companies today, internal email is half to three quarters of all traffic. Reading, processing, managing, organizing, and responding to it absorbs vast amounts of time. We clog one another’s e-mail systems and to-do lists with a mishmash of crucial topics and trivial information and then waste hours of every day slogging through a hundred useless e-mails to ensure we don’t look irresponsible by missing the two or three important ones.

Worse, e-mail is rarely the best medium for addressing the issues and opportunities at hand. It brings us quick questions that don’t have quick answers; long, informative rambles with no clear action steps; conversation chains with too many people cc’d and many of them offering oversimplified opinions. And that’s on a good day.
But it was not the above that caught my attention, but his insight about the fact that email is some times - more often than not - totally inappropriate in business. Buried beneath 'our collective e-mail dysfunction' (as he calls is) is the essential one-on-one interaction between people - respecting each other with our time and effort to meet (or at the very least, to talk) in person. After all, email is terrible when it comes to any form of relationship management. Unfortunately, we have been orientated by a soul-less, corporate environment (that failed humanity in more way than one) to accept email as a great tool to start, mend or end relationships. One step worse - text messages.

"E-mail has become a false way of addressing conflict, and the costs in terms of time and trust are dramatic". From my own business experience, it happened once that a sincere request to discuss a misunderstanding was turned down in favour of an email (deemed sufficient). It was a subtle display of perceived power, arrogance and most of all, insensitivity and disrespect. The impact of it still lingers, because the pro-email choice was a violation of trust - at least a better form of communication would have minimised damage. Efficiency cannot trump Decency. It is the unspoken code between those who live beyond self.

So I accept that E-mail is not a communication tool - at all! What is it then? How could it be best used in my November Email Experiment that I will call #minusEmail or #minUseMail (whatever works)...

I suspect that the emails we read and write have the use to carry imformation, but not much tone or intention. It simply cannot be what it is made out to be... but to build upon the article, it is indeed useful when it is:

Email as a Snapshot: share an overview, like an agenda,
Email as a Note on the Fridge: delegate simple tasks,
Email as a Courier: send on attachments or hyperlinks to inform discussions or decisions, and
Email as MindMap: summarise decisions from meetings

I intend to change my email habits considerably and invite you to do so with me. Call me to discuss solutions, ideas and decisions - or meet with me if you want to make progress putting our heads together.

But don't write me an email unless it adds value to my life, or will increase my productivity and yours. Game on? #minusEmail

Monday, October 1, 2012

the new room mate...

She shares a room with my mom and I have the chance to sit quietly with her for a while. She has Parkinson's Disease and cancer - a deadly combination. And she says she is glad my mom moved in three weeks ago, because everyone else around her passed away - she believed she was next. Now she is not sure any more and it is a good thing... (I wish someone made more of an effort to talk to her about the trauma of losing three previous room mates around her).

She looks troubled today against the yellow pillow case. I ask about her husband and she proceeds to to tells me in broken English (due to dementia) that he has no one else to look after him. He had the flu and did not visit for a few days. And they have no children. She was a medical nurse, highly qualified - worked in the theatre, with much authority. And now she intimately knows what lies ahead for her, but looks at me intently and tells me "this was so unexpected". Life is like that - unexpected. And cruel. I have seen how cruelty plays itself out when life turns a blind eye to good people with good intentions.

I tell her she should not worry so much and that he husband will be fine, because he has a place of his own and new friends. She looks slightly relieved, but totally unconvinced. Her face so pale. (I got a text message this week telling me how pale my mom is, and I think to myself: this, this is pale).

I ask what she worries about most. She is quiet for a while, then tells me softly that she can no longer walk with her husband. And he has to walk alone. This is true. He does. But mostly, he sits alone outside between the summer flowers whenever I come - and looks forlorn and lost. His eyes are constantly filled with tears, and his voice carries bitterness about the smallest issues. He is a man out of control. He is without any ideas. I don't tell her this, but show her the daisies that I picked, instead.

I am glad my mom has a room mate. They don't talk of course, and are on the opposite sides of the room - each at a window. They only really share the morning sun and the same sure future - the unknown road that we shall all travel. On this International Day of Older People I cannot help but think about the way that society - children and grandchildren of older people - throw away the people that cared for them once. Emotionally disconnected, they make their 'loved' ones the responsibility of others who often have no choice but to step into the gaping emptiness of their disappearance. Strangers becoming family. And I wonder - how did we become like this? Such indifferent people in a shared, fragile humanity with way too many myths about age and getting older. We should reframe what it means to be old.

My mom has a room mate. She has a tiny broken body and life is cruel. Both of them - actually. We are told too many times that there is something disturbingly wrong when we speak of the illness and the pain, and are not happy-go-lucky... As if this is an indicator of success - superficial happiness.  I wish upon my friends true joy as we all get older one day. Not make-believe pretence that everything is well - while you actually starve financially, or emotionally. We deserve real relationships in our lives. 

But the truth is, we already have those room mates that share in hardship and in pain, and we should have our eyes wide open when we connect. This is real. Not the fairy tales. But these unspoken, unexpected unfairnesses in life itself that we share - injustice one way or another. Each to their own. And no one deserves death, but we all get it - eventually. Inevitably part of a cycle of life itself. So on our way there, why don't we just make it a bit more liveable for those that are closer to the end of this cycle than we are - then again, even this fleeting thought is just a perception of reality. Because, who knows when?.... 

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