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

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A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 1 to 8 (On Email Sanity by Zen Habits)

Gran Canaria - Presa de Ayagaures & Surroundings ...It has been a bit over two months and I guess it would be a good time now for an update on how things have been going so far. Yes, I know in the past I have been blogging about this on a monthly basis, more or less, but as I am making my way into my third year, I feel that blogging about it is going to be more spaced out than ever before. Of course, I’m talking about living "A World Without Email", the initiative I started about two years and two months ago, which I still keep going about, probably for a good while now, where I decided to give up on corporate email for good, Thinking Outside the Inbox.

Yes, indeed, those two have the main major themes I have been running through over the last few months where I have finally ditched corporate email altogether in favour of social software tools. If you would remember, the last time I blogged about this initiative was the entry of the final report for Year 2, Week 52, where I mentioned how during the course of that second year running I was getting an average of 22 emails per week. So how have I been doing over the last two months since that last blog post, you may be wondering, right? Have I given up on giving up corporate email altogether? Still going at it? Still going strong? Still with no regrets of making such a bold move?

You bet! There have been a couple of times, during those last eight weeks, where I thought about stopping with this initiative altogether, since I thought I had proved well enough you *can* survive in the corporate world without making use of email. But then again I thought for myself that perhaps I’m not ready just yet to call it quits that easily. Specially, now that I have been enjoying the true pleasure, and what a treat!, of no longer being dependent on email. Yes, I know, quite a relief!

So I didn’t give up. I kept moving along, now well into my third year without using corporate email and placing, perhaps, a much stronger focus on my continued use of social software tools to help avoid falling into the email trap, once again. But how have I been doing? As usual, I have been putting together a bunch of weekly reports, which you can find over at my Flickr account, but here is the latest one that puts together those eight weeks without email in a row:

A World Without Email - Year 3, Week 8

Not bad, eh? If you do the math, you will see how I have gone from 22 emails per week for Year 2, to 18 emails a week, on average, for Year 3. Indeed, not bad at all! Quite the opposite, don’t you think? I just keep getting less and less emails by the month, by the year. Remember how, when I was starting this experiment I was getting an average of 30 to 40 emails a day? Now it is 18 per week! Absolutely fantastic and something that surely serves as good enough motivation for yours truly to keep pushing gently living "A World Without Email".

I am not sure when I would be blogging again about my next progress report, perhaps in another few weeks, but one thing for certain is that, if things keep going the way they are, I can imagine this year I may well be going below the 15 emails per week mark, which I’m sure would be classified as a huge achievement! But we will have to wait and see …

Talking about huge achievements though, how about your email sanity? Are you keeping in control of it all? Have you declared email bankruptcy already several times? Have you achieved Inbox Zero and still make sense of it all? Before you answer any of those questions, let me ask you to have a look into the really wonderful blog post put together by Leo Babauta, from Zen Habits (One of my all time favourite blogs, by the way!), titled "Email Sanity: How to Clear Your Inbox When You’re Drowning".

It’s an excellent read that I can surely recommend to all of those folks who still make use of email as their primary means of communication and collaboration. It will actually give you a few hints and tips on how you can tame that email beast (Before it takes over from you!) with plenty of great advice on how to handle both already existing emails and incoming ones. It then gets better, because Leo shares some really good piece of advice on how to not only process old emails, but, finally, how to "Stop the Flood", which is, I guess, what most of us may have been suffering from all along.

Lots of great tricks in that article, I can tell you. Worth while a read and all of the time that you may spend on it. However, I thought I would add a couple of thoughts to Leo’s great post by sharing with you folks how I eventually stopped the flood myself over two years ago. So every so often, and from here onwards, I think I’m now, finally, ready to share with you folks the hints and tips I have learned over the years on reducing my email clutter, to the point where it is non-existent at this point in time.

Thus, instead of making a lovely list of "How to" items (Which I guess I can put together as well in subsequent blog entries as time goes by), I thought I would just highlight three different actions I embark on whenever I spend time in email, which nowadays it’s typically about 10 minutes per day versus the two to three hours a day I used to spend on it in the past. But now not anymore.

The key message towards reducing your existing email flood is to eventually do something we all *can* do, which is sending less emails in the first place! Yes, this is related to the same point that Leo makes on his post: if you would want to receive less email, stop sending emails yourself! It’s that easy! So let’s go!:

  • Stop sending emails yourself: This is probably the toughest thing to do; I know how very tempting it can well be to have that poignant question you know has got an easy answer within a matter of seconds by sending an email to this or that other colleague. Bang! Answer is there! Well, stop! Don’t send it just yet! Think! Think about other ways you could make use of to get that answer; whether you could make use of social software tools, or a quick Instant Message, or a phone call or just find the answer online, don’t just hit Send right away. Wait for it as if it were your very very last resort. There is a great chance that by that time you may have found the answer already! And therefore no need to send that email.

    So first step; stop sending emails yourself; think of better, more appropriate, ways of engaging with others. Just because email suits you just fine, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will suit others; in most cases it won’t. Respect that! Help them help you become more productive by not making them waste their time going through their Inboxes hunting just that email. Remember, the more email you send, the more email you will get back! That’s a well known fact!

  • Stop replying to emails: Yes, just as tempting as sending an email yourself, so is replying to people’s emails. You know the drill; you get that lovely email from one of your colleagues with an interesting tidbit of information you could rather respond to or add further on, and, what do you do right away? Indeed, you hit reply! Don’t! Just like I mentioned above: Think!, before you send out that reply. There may be better ways of getting back to that colleague than through email…

    Have you thought about perhaps a quick phone call (Remember, we can talk much much faster than we could ever write down!)?; or an Instant Message, if you see your colleague is online at the moment you have read their email? (This is, eventually, my favourite method of replying back, when the other person is online in IM! So much faster!); or perhaps reply back through micro-blogging/-sharing tools, or maybe a blog, or a wiki, or through an activity stream? Like I said, think before you hit reply, because there is a great chance there’s a better option out there to respond back!

  • Refuse to engage through email: At all costs, if people keep insisting on sending you email after email, and you know there are better collaboration and knowledge sharing tools out there, keep pushing them away into those social tools; show them the way; spend some time with them showing how much you are benefiting from using these other tools so that they would want to try them out themselves. Move email conversations away from your Inbox and into social spaces.

    Unless you are having a 1:1 confidential / sensitive kind of conversation, move it away from your Inbox. Respond back through whatever other means rather than email. What you will be showing is a good response time, at the same time you are already hinting what other better ways folks would have to get in touch with you. And next time around they will be using those instead…

Show them the way; show them how they, too, can free up themselves from the email yoke, that one that keeps adding on additional pressure time and time again, specially when you lose control of it. It all starts with those three, very simple principles:

  • Stop sending emails yourself
  • Stop replying to emails
  • Refuse to engage through email

That’s pretty much essentially how over the course of 3 years, I have now moved from 30 to 40 emails a day, to 18 a week, of which a good bunch of them are calendaring and scheduling notifications that, unfortunately, I still have to process through email. But how long does it eventually take me to click on Accept / Decline on those events? A second? Two seconds? Well, that’s where most of my time spent on email is nowadays and by the looks of it, I guess it’s going to decrease more and more for me, despite what some other people have been saying lately out there.

They say that life nowadays is all about simplyfing both your work and personal lives; well, since email has been ever so disruptive, both in our work and private lives, may be it is now the time to finally break free from it! … For good!

Are you ready? Would you start it today? Could you also live "A World Without Email"?

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