E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Giving up on Work e-mail – Status Report on Week 29 (Breaking the e-mail Compulsion)

If you would remember, last week I mentioned how I had a little bit of a surprise for those folks following the progress from my new mantra on giving up e-mail and continue to make much more extensive use of social software and social computing within the enterprise. This surprise has actually got to do with something that I thought I would be approaching as my next challenge for the next few months to come. And it all has got to do with the weekly progress reports I have been sharing over here in the last few months.

A couple of times back I have hinted already how, now that my current take of incoming e-mails has become rather steady between the 25 to 30 e-mails a week (Coming from the 30 to 40 e-mails a day!), my new challenge is to keep things going down and eventually get below the mark of 25, to be more precise, 20 e-mails a week! Yes, that is right. My next new challenge is to try to reduce the incoming e-mail count even more and starting slowly, but steadily, go below the 20 e-mails a week mark!

Kind of intrigued whether I would be able to make it or not, so we shall see how that goes. I must say that last week I was almost on the brink of doing it, well, even better, I had it, but it all got messed up on Friday! Here is the weekly progress report, so that you folks can have a look and see what I mean:

Yes, indeed, as you would be able to see from the above screen shot, I have hit a new record low on the count of incoming e-mails at work: 21 e-mails for week 29!!! WOW! Fantastic news, indeed! Going down from 36 to 21 during the course of a week is a huge achievement, and more when I wanted to get things going with this new challenge of under 20 e-mails starting last week! Wooohooo! Wonderful news!

But wait, things could have been even better! As you would be able to notice, the total amount of e-mails started being rather low from the beginning of the week and steady throughout the whole time, till Friday! Things changed a bit on that day, specially seeing the last few weeks. Up until Friday I was on the mark of 16 e-mails a week! 16 e-mails!!! (Can you imagine?!?!), but something happened on Friday that messed it up big time!

What was it? -you may be wondering, right? Well, what do you think? The Reply to All button! I tell you, I would kill that button from people’s inbox in a minute! Give me the chance and I can guarantee you I would! Any time! There I was, all excited about reaching a new low of 16 e-mails and I got one more. Ok, 17, not too bad, but then I saw a few people on the .CC list and right there, right then, I knew it was going to blow off! And it did!

About a few minutes later people started to "Reply to All", like crazy, adding their two cents and before I knew it I had 5 of them sitting in my inbox, of which I didn’t need ANY of them! Yikes! That’s the worst part, isn’t it? Getting the first e-mail is not that bad, it is getting the subsequent replies when you know you don’t need them and everyone else knows that you don’t need it either! Yet, the e-mail gets sent out and you are busted, Mr! And so I was, too! hehe

I guess I would need to start educating folks on when to use, and when NOT TO use "Reply to All"! I suppose I would start with something relatively easy: if in doubt, if you are really not sure about it, if you have got reservations about it all, DON’T send it! Or better, I could also go ahead and point folks to the very enlightening and educational article that Suw Charman-Anderson put together for The Guardian under the title "Breaking the e-mail Compulsion" and where a good friend of mine, Roo Reynolds, also gets a mention.

In that interesting and very relevant article you would be able to see how there has been some research done on the kind of impact that processing e-mails has got in our day to day productivity to the point where we seem to have gotten addicted to it & therefore waste precious amounts of time. I can certainly recommend you to have a go and read the article, because you are going to find it quite a fascinating read!

At the same time I am sure you would find very very entertaining the section "How to keep control of that runaway inbox", where you would be able to read about a good bunch of really helpful tips on how you can cut down on your own e-mail addiction and with very very simple steps. Most of which, if you ask me, are pretty much common sense. But, like I said, worth while a read, for sure.

Finally, and while I was putting together this blog post, I noticed how Suw also mentioned in her own blog a couple of comments on the article she published and towards the end she included a couple of related blog posts on this very same topic of cutting down on e-mail while at work: "Turning off email won’t help" and "Why e-mail is addictive (and what to do about it)" that I also found incredibly relevant. Specially the latter one.

There is very little I can say about each of them, other than encourage you all to have a look and go through them, as you would be able to relate to pretty much of the stuff that gets mentioned over there at the same time that you would find little precious gems like this one, taken from the second article referenced above:

"A final strategy, and one that is used in animal training to remove problem behaviours, is to reinforce an alternative, incompatible action. If you have a problem with your pet eagle landing on your head the most efficient way to stop it is to reward landing on a mat at your feet, rather than struggle with extinguishing head-landing. What this would mean in the context of email checking I will leave as an exercise to the reader."

Somehow, I feel that I may have gotten started myself cutting down on that e-mail addiction by reinforcing an alternative, incompatible? (Not sure just yet they would be incompatible, to be honest; still pondering about that one!) action. And so far it makes me feel incredibly productive and back in control of the flow of interactions at work, which, I guess, is the first step towards beating your own addiction: acknowledging it (Perhaps the hardest part, like for any other addiction), figuring out what’s wrong, finding that alternative, and taking it into action! And slowly, but steadily, start to move progressively away from e-mail as your preferred method for communicating, collaborating and sharing your knowledge!

What about you? Found the magic trick that would make it work for you? I would love to hear some stories on how you are moving away from e-mail and finally beating up that addiction for good? Want to share your story?

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  1. Ahh! What a pity, it´s even annoying me to see your mails rushing from 16 to 21 just because of the “hated Reply all button” . Very nice and funny blogpost at the same time.

    Congratulations and go ahead. (Argg, and one of it was from me. I feel like in a multiplayer game with the aim to get/send as less mails as possible, very interesting phenomenon).

    Against E-MailAddiction: I´m trying not to watch my inbox more than 3 times and stopped the autonotification (alarm & popup). Most of the time it doesn´t work. But it gets better.

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