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


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