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

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A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 29 to 51 (The Email Starvation Continues…)


One more week to go and I am done with another year of living “A World Without Email“; the third one in a row and still going rather strong at it, despite the numerous feedback I have been receiving from people over the last few months on whether I have given up on it altogether, since they didn’t hear much from me in that respect and thought I had quietly given up on giving up corporate email altogether and didn’t say much about it. So I thought I would go ahead and spend a few minutes today sharing plenty of the good progress I have made over the last five and a half months, since the last update. Yes, indeed, the conclusion so far is that it *is* possible to live a corporate life without using work email! So far I am down to 17 emails received per week! Yes, that’s a reduction of over 95% in my email traffic over the last three years!

Thus what has happened in the last five and a half months, since I published the last progress report, you may be wondering, right? Well, I will tell you shortly what has happened with my progress, but it looks like elsewhere things are looking very good for everyone else to start thinking they, too, can re-purpose how they process and work through their overblown mail inboxes and find better ways of connecting, communicating, collaborating and sharing their knowledge. And that’s an even better news! Even Dilbert has been having a go in describing, very accurately, the state of email, just as the priceless Oatmeal brilliantly did not long ago as well.

Just recently we have seen a good number of studies and research done that demonstrates consistently the full power of social networking and social software tools in helping, successfully, reduce the amount of traffic generated by knowledge workers, which in some cases has been accounted as much as 28% and 27% in email traffic reduction altogether! And that’s just huge, if you ask me! Imagine now when people start relying more and more on these social tools and they reach similar levels to the ones I have been enjoying myself for the last few months. Totally insane is a word that comes to mind!

At the same time the amount of interesting and relevant reading materials covering not just productivity tips, but also mistakes, and lessons learned from managing your Inbox better and much more effectively keep coming out at a more rampant pace than ever before, which, to me, seems to clearly indicate how plenty of people are starting to question, and re-think!, the way they take advantage and benefit from their email systems and to some extent those hints and tips, and great insights, help alleviate some of the issues email currently has as a powerful collaboration and knowledge sharing tool. But not all, as a few folks have already ventured to state. Perhaps the most intriguing reading you will bump into out there in this regard is that absolutely wonderful blog post put together by my good friend Stowe Boyd under “Liquid Email“, which tries to re-define email within the current context of the flow from the Social Web. Very relevant to start thinking how we are going to re-purpose what we know is not going to disappear any time soon, and, instead, get the most out of it in a new form / shape reflecting our current needs, not those from 10 or 20 years ago!

Now, not to worry, I am not ready just yet to declare, in full force and rather out loud, that email is dead, because it is not! By far, as plenty of folks have been highlighting over the course of the last few weeks; but what I can certainly state, based on my own experiences, and the various links I have been including in this blog post as reference materials (Lots of great insights in each and everyone of them!), is that email has got its days numbered … as we have been using it all along in the last few decades. We are finally seeing the light and acknowledging that what once was the king of communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing is no longer the case in today’s world with the Social Web having a much more relevant and purposeful set of intentions that are driving how we connect, share and innovate with our peers, but also with our customers and business partners. So, email is just one more of the options we have got available out there. Not the only one, as we seemed to have claimed for a while now. It’s time for us to understand how there are, after all, better tools out there to help us get the job done much more effectively and efficiently altogether.

And that’s essentially what I have been trying to prove for the last three years of living “A World Without Email“; that you can be as productive as ever, if not more!, that you can connect effectively across not just with your team, but with the entire corporation, your clients and other fellow peers, that you can eventually regain back your own productivity and help enhance that one of others by making extensive use of social tools as well and not just email. Thus, without much further ado, I think it’s a good time to go ahead now and share with you folks the weekly progress report of the last 22 weeks, from week #29 till week #51, so you can have a look into how I have been coping with that email reduction all along for the last few months (Yes, I know I am a little bit late sharing that status report… it’s been rather hectic all over the place! hehe), but also how you can find some interesting data that still gives me the impression there is still plenty of work ahead of us for that even more substantial email decrease!

A World Without Email - Year 3, Weeks 29 to 51

As you would be able to see, the numbers have remained rather steady on the low side, which means that throughout all of those months, and eventually, for the whole year, I have managed to stay well under the mark of 20 emails received per week, which I think is a pretty nice achievement for the the third year in a row I have been doing this experiment. You may have noticed as well how during those few weeks I have been having a peak with the highest number of emails received in a single week with 44 (Last year I had one of 47 and the previous one of 60, so even those peaks are decreasing as well!), and also a couple of instances where I have reached single digit figures for that week, which is really nice, because that, eventually, is my final goal!

However, one other interesting tidbit, as you may have seen from the progress report, the last three weeks the number of emails received per week has gone up, compared to previous weeks and it looks like it continues to keep the momentum going. Well, that’s about to drop off this week, because we are in Lotusphere 2011 week! Yes, that’s right, when analysing those email stats I realise that most of that traffic was Lotusphere related; you know, preparing logistics, setting up meetings with customers and business partners, arranging last minute tasks and todos, etc. etc. And, if I look at previous years, during the week of the event, and right after, the numbers will drop even further down than what they have so far!

You see? This is what I mean when I mentioned I still have got plenty of work to do, helping my own organisation make the switch and rely much heavily on social tools than email. If you would remember, back in the day, it was three years ago, nearly, that I decided to carry out this experiment and one of the many reasons was actually coming back from Lotusphere and finding myself with hundreds of emails to process and myself reaching the point of declaring enough is enough! I need to regain my long time ago lost productivity! Well, as I am about to enter the 4th consecutive year of giving up on corporate email, what a better way of closing this blog entry with a quote from Stowe himself once again from another recent article which I think summarises quite nicely the very fate of email in the next few months…

So we are slowly starving email, relegating it to a shorter and short list of appropriate uses. In time, it will fall off the edge, like fax is now that we can scan and send attachments more easily than using dedicated fax machines. We will find that email will be left with a short list of uses, like monthly mailing from the bank, or travel itineraries from Expedia. These relative impersonal communications with companies will be the final resting ground for email, and then, even that will wink out when a better metaphor for social interaction with companies becomes dominant

Well, let the email starvation continue for another year! I won’t be missing it either when it is gone!

Long live “A World Without Email“!

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    1. Hi Daniel! Yeah, indeed, I do realise about it, but, if you notice, this blog post was a very much long overdue update on how progress goes getting along, so decided to keep up accumulating some of those links and then share it across on this monster blog entry, as a way of helping shape how some other folks out there have been seeing this very same topic.

      Now, this is not something that will repeat itself too much, since I am not sure I would be allowing that much time in between updates from here onwards, so you will see shorter blog posts with less links as a way to tame the info overload beast ;-))

      Thanks again for the feedback, my friend! Hope to see you soon!

  1. Just a question on your email statistics : do you exclude email notifications from social tools or did you just disable email notifications also ?

    If yes, then, how do you follow some topics ? Only through some dashboards ?

    1. Hi Nicolas, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the feedback comments! I actually exclude those “emails”, because, to me, they are not emails, but what’s known as BACN, basically, notifications of content that’s stored elsewhere.

      The reason why I don’t count them is because my Inbox behaves now like an RSS feed aggregator filing all of these notices that alert me of content that’s out there.

      Mind you as well that I have turned most of those notifications off, eventually, and continue to rely, for the most part, on RSS feeds of the different social tools I use; much easier to manage the flow, in my opinion.

      1. Thanks Luis ; it was the kind of answer I expected.

        I fully agree that the still alive RSS feeds are better than email notifications when available 🙂

        I’ll continue to use your experience to promote “email as notification channel” and to avoid that email is where knowledge is going to die (fully agree also with this statement)

        1. Hi Nicolas, thanks a bunch for the follow up and for the feedback comments! Yes, indeed, it’s amazing to think how there are a bunch of people who keep claiming that RSS is dead, when to most of us it’s alive and kicking and making our lives incredibly easier, so for as long as we can possibly keep using them, I am there! 🙂

          Appreciate your willingness to help spread the message and happy to hear you would be doing similar things of trying to reduce your email traffic. By the way, that quote of “Email is where knowledge goes to die” is actually not mine; I have dearly adopted from Bill French, who coined it in a blog post back in 2003! Rather visionary back then already! 🙂

    2. Oh, yes, forgot to add on the above comment… RSS is not dead for me just yet; quite the opposite! Alive and kicking all the way! I would be in trouble without those feeds! 😉

  2. Hi Nicolas! Yeah, I know what you mean, but credit should go to where it is due, you know ;-)) Happy though to spread it around, since I passionately believe in that mantra from all along, since I first got started with “Thinking Outside the Inbox” 😀 hehe

  3. Nice! Thanks so much for the kind reference and I, too, am LOVING fighting the good fight. I’m not quite down to 17 (admirable indeed), BUT, I am no longer crazed by the chaos and perceived urgency that email craze presents. I used to have MANY that would just sit there and get older and older because I was just so overwhelmed. Between unsubscribing from lists, having staff ‘batch’ theirs, and not conversing via email, my volume is much more valuable. My other tip is 0 email Friday – so I leave the office on Friday with 0 in my inbox. So nothing is ever more than a week old. My mind is clearer, my days are less frenzied, I’ve freed up HOURS a day, and I’m finally spending time on higher level projects. Thanks again for your post!

    1. Hi Kris! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for the feedback comments! Wonderful success story! I am surely glad you have shared it across over here to demonstrate how it *is* possible to leave “A World Without Email” and save up all of that time not having to process tons of emails to do some more productive and complex tasks; basically, work!

      Your story surely is rather inspiring and I am happy to read how tenacious and resilient you have been about it all along! Surely, something admirable and worth while replicating and do hope other folks take notice it’s not just one or two of us doing this; the tide has turned upside down and here we are all of us coming along demonstrating how it’s possible to re-gain back our own productivity levels!

      Thanks much for the feedback! 🙂

  4. Hi Luis,

    I must admit that I did not read your other articles on that topic, so you might just need to post another link to answer my question. But I would really like to know, what other tools you use and more importantly to what extent you use these other tools to replace email.
    Basically: did the total amount of “messages” you receive and write also drop, or do you just communicate via more different channels now, but still write the same amount or even more lines to communicate with people?

    Interesting experiment anyway, I guess especially inside IBM …

    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Götz! Thanks much for dropping by and for the feedback comments! Catching up with the streams after a rather intense couple of weeks, including some time off as well!

      Right, essentially, what I have done with this initiative is simply move over 95% of my email conversations into social software spaces, resulting in perhaps a few more interactions than through email, but certainly out in the open and available to everyone, which means there is also an exercise of transparency and openness that helps reduce a number of transactions where before there wasn’t any visibility of what is happening.

      I just wanted to prove how you can live a healthy work life without email as the king of communication and collaboration, like it’s happened in the last 10 years, but to open up the door to much more effective and collaborative social tools altogether, which make up for much more relevant and resourceful information / knowledge sharing.

      For some good examples on how this is working out for me, I would encourage you to have a look into this mindmap titled “A World Without Email” and this recording, where you can listen to plenty of the tips I use on a daily basis to move away from my Inbox and into social spaces, and where I mentioned a whole bunch of them as well.

      I am now very much due a couple of blog entries, where I can provide the final progress report for year #3 and another one for the first 4 weeks for years #4. Stay tuned for more insights and experiences to come through! And thanks much for the feedback! 🙂

      1. Luis,

        I’m a relative newcomer to the “no email” discussion. I learned about you from reading posts by Paul Jones, who is a huge fan of your work in this area. While I have an open mind I’m a skeptic of the benefits of the no email argument.

        I was looking at the mind map you linked to and followed a link on it to the New York Times story on what you’re doing. I’ve a few comments/questions about what you said in that piece.

        “… I cut the number of e-mails that I receive by 80 percent in a single week.”

        What did you gain? A communication is a communication regardless of form. For the sake of round numbers let’s assume you were receiving 100 emails a week. Now you receive 20 emails and the other 80 communications come as social media posts, IMs, phone calls, etc. They’re still communications. If you still read them, respond to them, then all you’ve done is taken them out of one inbox and put them in another. What did that save and how is it better? Unless you have data supporting that the overall number of communications fell as a direct result of shifting the medium, or that the time it takes you to respond to each communication decreased as a result of shifting the medium, then I fail to see what you’ve gained. It actually seems less efficient since with email you had one inbox and now you have several.

        “Instead of responding individually to messages that arrived in my in-box, I started to use more social networking tools, like instant messaging …”

        How is an instant message “social networking” and how is it any different than an email? IMs are one of the worst form of communication since by their very nature they demand immediate attention. They interrupt whatever you’re doing, having no regard for availability, and the sender almost always expects an immediate response since they can likely see that you’re online. Email is far more efficient since it is inherently asynchronous, thereby allowing you to respond on your schedule rather than the sender’s.

        “I also started to use the telephone much more than I did before …”

        If the goal of no email is to save time, which you allude to in your opening paragraph where you mention the time spent catching up on e-mail, and be more productive, then the telephone is the worst option available. Not only is it demanding, even more so than IMs, it also wastes time. It inevitably leads to leaving messages, telephone tag, missed calls, call backs, etc. It also requires that you and the other party be free at the same time. As I mentioned above, email allows you to communicate when time permits, not be forced to communicate when the other person is available. I’ll agree that the telephone is more personal, but even that can lead to more wasted time in the form of the social pleasantries.

        I’ve seen other no email proponents mention spam as a major reason to get away from email. the argument seems flawed since there appears to be just as much spam on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. What’s worse is that on Facebook a significant amount of spam is malicious and since it appears to come from someone the reader trusts they are more likely to fall victim.

        Social networking also lacks the tools email clients have for avoiding unwanted posts. For example, I use Yammer at work. There are hundreds of posts a day that have little or nothing to do with me that still appear in my stream. Far more than I get via email. Yet by the very nature of the product I have to wade through the product to find those that do pertain to me, that I might be interested in, or that I should pay attention to.

        Bottom line. I’m a big believer in data and statistics. Do you have data that conclusively demonstrates that social networking is a more efficient and effective communications tool than email? I’m talking hard facts, not things like “x percent of kids today prefer it over email” or Gartner reports predicting the percentage of businesses that will be using social networking in five years. I’m looking for objective facts measured against a baseline.

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