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

From the blog

A World Without Email — Year 3, Weeks 19 to 23 (Breaking the Email Addiction)

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves & Surroundings in the SpringIt has been a few weeks already since the last progress report I have shared over here around the topic of living "A World Without Email" (#lawwe) and since quite a few people have asked me recently how things are going, to the point where I will be talking to an internal group doing smart work and then a customer event on this very same subject very soon, I thought I might as well get together another update to relate how things are going. Has my weekly inbound email increased or decreased? Have I given up altogether on it already? Have I gone back to email after listening again to the sirens singing along? No, not likely! Still going strong and steady! After all of these years I can finally proclaim I have now, at long last, broken my email addiction!

Indeed, 5 weeks have gone by since the last time I blogged on this subject and even though I haven’t commented much on the topic on this blog throughout that time, things have been going rather well, steady and straight to the final destination of living that dream of "A World Without Email". One step at a time, year after year, but eventually getting there! Check out the latest progress report from those five weeks:

 A World Without Email - Year 3, Weeks 19 to 23

As you may have noticed, except for a single week where I reached the mark of 30 emails received in that week, for the rest of them the numbers have been rather consistent to go under 20 emails received per week, which is not bad considering the average of those 23 weeks gone by so far is still around the 18 emails mark, which I consider a rather good result to end up the remaining of the year in pretty good shape closer to the 15 to 10 mark. Indeed, not bad at all!

But might social media ever win the war with email? Or are the claims about the death of email greatly exaggerated, as Beth Kanter seems to provocatively suggest? Or are we in recovery mode, for the time being, since it looks like email is bad for our health? (My good friend Frank Bradley eventually suggests a few tips on reducing the impact of email in our health on that post; worth while having a look into it!). I’m not too sure, despite the wonderful news coming along indicating otherwise; like Ben & Jerry’s dropping email marketing in favour of social media, which a few folks have asked me what I thought about it … Well, what can I say? Hummm, Yummy!! 🙂

No, seriously, what I think is happening at the moment, is that we have reached the tipping point where we are finally breaking loose from our email addiction, as Tony Schwartz has nicely put, just recently, under the title "Breaking the Email Addiction", over at Harvard Business Review, with some rather thought provoking, controversial, but very much descriptive quotes of where we have been for a while:

"It isn’t overload we’re battling anymore, it’s addiction — to action, and information, and connection, but above all to instant gratification"

To then finish up with this other quote that seems to tackle that very same problem of email addiction and what we can do to break it:

"[…] We, too, can strategically train our attention. When it comes to email and the Internet, it’s critical that we do so to give ourselves more time to think more reflectively, creatively, and deeply in an increasingly complex world"

This last quote clearly reminds me of a recent blog post I put together where I was questioning whether multitasking is bad for the brain or not. And while still pondering some more about it, there is something out there going on that tells me that we don’t seem to have learned much from our previous addiction(s) and here we are, finding ourselves up another alley, but with another addiction: social networking, as Steve Rubel, from Edelman, has nicely described over at "Study: 43% Of Online Americans Addicted To Social Networking". Ha! I bet you saw that one coming, didn’t you?

I can certainly recommend folks have a read at Tony’s HBR piece, as I am sure that plenty of the tips he shares on breaking our email addiction could also be applied to taming that very same addiction leaning towards social networking. To me, eventually, it is all down to how we manage our interruptions; basically, how we train ourselves to focus our attention on what we really need to do, using the proper collaborative,  knowledge sharing or social software tools. Or, as I shared on another blog post over four years ago: "We create our own distractions and just need to learn to manage them".

I guess after three and a half years of living "A World Without Email" I have learned how to manage those distractions, and if folks out there may be wondering about how I have done it all along, I think I could just summarise it with two key words: balance and flow. That is, focusing on striking the balance between my distractions and the tasks / activities at hand and flow with regards to the point that I have finally learned to come to terms with my limitation of not being capable to read and digest everything that gets thrown back at me. Instead, I rely on the flow of the Social Web, as Stowe Boyd would put it, having realised that whatever it may well be, if it was really meant for me, i.e. something I would need, something that would really require my attention, it would eventually come back to me. In whatever other form or shape.

Perhaps that’s what breaking our addiction from both email and social networking is all about. Relying more and more on the social networks we all belong to, so that they can do their work in helping collaboratively filter what we need, and get rid of what we don’t need; resulting, eventually, in carrying out (our) work inside of networks and communities versus our traditional organisational structures, which seem to have trained us very well, over the course of the years, in sustaining that email addiction. May be it is the time to break loose and let social networks do the job. May be it’s the time for us to finally cultivate and trust, essentially, those networks we have learned to nurture over the course of time, because whether we like it or not, they do know what they are doing, don’t you think?

Are you ready to break through and join the revolution? What do we have to lose? Or, better said, what do we have to win? Something tells that a lot! Just hope we would all wake up before it is too late… before we transition from one addiction, that one of email, to another one: that one of social networking.

Hope not!

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  1. Thanks very much Luis for your link to my article about Email being bad for your health. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but I found that the title helped to get people’s attention.

    1. Hi Frank! Thanks for the feedback and for dropping by! I actually think the title was right on, if you come to consider the kind of unnecessary stress we are all under when trying to work our way through huge inboxes everyday! Even to the point of no longer allowing us to enjoy a good and well deserved holiday break by constantly checking it in our mobile devices!

      So if you would want to associate stress and email under that context, I think the title of your article fits in quite nicely! Thanks for putting together that lovely set of tips, by the way! Good stuff!

  2. I remember when you started down this path. I am glad to see it is still working. As always, you challenge me – I have an inbox into which tons of things pour, many of which I delete before I look at them.

    Why do I not turn off the spouts? Because, I am afraid I will miss out on SOMEthing. In reality, my mind is so divided by all the pipes, I can’t think straight. I mean, who can really keep up with their Twitter feed once you have more than ten people you follow?

    So, down the rabbit hole again, prune the incoming info to what I want to see, and see if I can focus again.


    1. Hi Don, thanks a bunch for dropping by and for the feedback comments, my friend! It’s interesting to see how you seem to be facing the very same “fear” I had myself when I first got started with this experiment. I, too, feared I would be missing out on stuff, but still I decided to go ahead and do it. And haven’t come back.

      Here is one example, I have unsubscribed from all kinds of newsletters for a while just to check how much I would miss the info contained in them; in reality, I found out I didn’t miss a single thing and the info that was really worth while and useful for me was already coming to me from other sources, i.e. more trusted sources, even.

      And when entering the social networking realm, I eventually learned to live by the flow of information; don’t try to pretend to read everything, because that’s impossible. Again, over time I learned that what I really needed to be aware of, no matter what!, it eventually came back to me in some other form or shape.

      I now let information find me and my social networks act, pretty much, as a powerful social collaborative filtering mechanism. I can live without email every day, for sure, but I am not sure I can no longer live without those social networks…

      That’s why there is no way back for me on this one, I am afraid 😉

  3. You have just become my personal hero. I work for a large company and litterally receive hundreds of e-mails every week. 25% of my time is spent picking through this stack. For the month September I plan on not sending a single e-mail. After that I might be as bold as to stop reading e-mails, but we’ll see about that (I’d also like to keep my job)

    Any advice? 🙂

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