Email is driving me crazy

by admin on November 24, 2008

in General

Email ought to be indispensable but for me it’s a resource drain. Over the last year I’ve heard many colleagues complain about the extent to which they’re drowning in email. I now find myself in a similar situation. It reminds of the time in the mid-90′s when my snail mail box heaved with material, most of which I never read. Each morning there can be up to 100 emails in my inbox. I filter extensively yet even so, the day starts with an impending sense of doom at the amount of stuff I need work through before doing anything useful. I’m seriously thinking about taking Luis Suarez advice and ditching email altogether. But then what’s the alternative?

I could get most of what I need via RSS. I could read group messages direct in those groups and respond at my leisure. I could make more use of Twitter though I doubt too many people would be pleased at that idea and I somehow think I’d be transferring one problem for another. I could treat as spam a significant number of messages that come through. I could kill my existing email account, start over and be rigorous about who I let know of the alternative email address. None of these solutions is particularly palatable but it is hard to think of workable alternatives.

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Luis Suarez November 24, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Hiya Dennis! Thanks much for the link love and for sharing such an interesting, and relevant, post, on a problem we all seem to relate to very close. Yes, indeed, I ditched e-mail over 10 months and it feels way better to be honest. Very shortly, some major changes are going to happen with and part of that change is going to be me sharing some of those tips of how I have moved away from e-mail for good. However, I thought I would share a tip I think would be worth while sharing to get things going for you.

I could probably say that the main reason why you get so much e-mail is because you keep replying to those e-mails, and you know how the rule goes: the more e-mail you reply to, the more e-mail you get back! Try to change that, look for other ways of engaging with folks, but e-mail. Say, for instance, someone contacts you about something through e-mail and you know they have got a blog (Probably they have included a link to theirs), then provide the answer to them in the blog, if it is open, public info, of course.

Twitter / Facebook can also help in this area. Or you could set up a wiki where you can tell folks to head over to post questions / content for you to engage with them, etc. I think one good way of getting things going is by watching your own e-mail habits. See what you can ditch for good and never walk back. Study your inbox for a few days and challenge yourself to the question … do I *really* need to send this e-mail? Could I have really done it doing something else. Chances are you could. Then you know *that* is the e-mail you need to move out!

It is a slow process, for sure, but the sooner you start the sooner you would be getting into it and start enjoying a live without e-mail. Yes, it feels way better! ;-)

Chris Yeh November 24, 2008 at 3:58 pm

This doesn't solve the problem, but one thing I do to cut down on emails is to encourage fellow project team members to communicate via wiki comment rather than email.

For example, I work with an advertising consulting, and we interact a lot around advertising creatives. I have her message me by commenting on the particular creative's wiki page, and then I respond by comment as well.

The reason this works is that it pulls certain high-importance messages into a different medium. It also eliminates the sorting/archiving needs of email and stores the messages in context.

It's not perfect; it's not good for communications that aren't about a specific wiki page/topic, and over time, you might have to delete some of the comments.

Dennis Howlett November 24, 2008 at 4:17 pm

@luis – thanks for your kind comments. The reality is that I delete many emails without even opening them. I get a lot of PR spam for instance. However, you're right. Now off to do some hard thinking. ;)

John Dodds November 24, 2008 at 4:27 pm

It's not email, it's the emailers who are the problem.

Luis Suarez November 24, 2008 at 5:49 pm

No problem, Dennis! John's comments above are just spot on! And that's exactly what I have done as well. The folks I communicate & collaborate the most frequently I have trained & educated them on how to move away from their inboxes as well & use much more collaborative tools, vs. just e-mail. And it has been working really well all along.

The issue is with those folks who hammer you down like those PR folks. You probably are in a unique situation of great visibility with them. Thinking probably you should go and educate them on how to best reach you. Thinking about what Stowe Boyd did with his Twitpitch for TwitPR stunt and so far it is working wonders with him as well. Check out the stuff he put together with Brian Solis.

Like I said, try to identify the worst offenders and start "showing" them how to best reach you, if they would want an answer from you. If not, time to make those filters stronger and delete all of that e-mail. Waste of your time, Dennis. But you already know that. Just show them where the money is my friend … Cheers!

Luis Suarez November 24, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Great story, Chris! Glad it is working for you, too, on how you are making use of wikis to achieve the same thing! That's exactly what I have been talking about and what has worked for me for over 10 months now! That way I have managed to reduce by 85% the total number of work related e-mails I used to receive before I started this new reality of mine and after seeing so many benefits I just won't change it. No way back! Yes, 85% reduction on all e-mails I receive at work. That, to me, is the biggest benefit of it all!

And a proof it can be done, too! heh :)

Jon Reed November 26, 2008 at 10:39 am

Hey Dennis!

I've been meaning to respond to your post for a couple of days, but I've been..bogged down in email. :) Thanks for airing this problem out!

Anyhow, I share some of these email aggravations, and there are definitely days where I feel like I am more in "reactionary mode" responding to email situations than I am pro-active, and the pro-active stuff is the forward-thinking things that make me feel like my days are worthwhile and not just a scramble. Those long email days are pretty deflating. The time that is hardest to claim is that pro-active writing/content/deliverables time, and for me, that's the most important time of all.

I don't have any easy solutions because a good chunk of my remaining email is pretty confidential one-to-one stuff that can't be dealt with any other way. I do remind myself that email has helped to free me up from "manning the phones" all the time, so there are some benefits to the flexibility of email schedulewise, but after a point of volume, email really does turn on you.

One thing is that any emails I get on general SAP career questions, I tend to respond more briefly and point them to relevant links on my site. Or, I will create a longer email if it is a good new question, turn that into an article, and point folks there the next time around. So, creating content that serves as "FAQ" is always good to reduce general inquiries.

Another thing that has helped me is to realize that as important as it is to respond to client questions, I'm better off limiting my email sessions to a couple a day. So, after a certain point in my day I shut off my email. Twitter has helped me here as I let clients know they can find me all the time on Twitter if they need anything. The reason limiting the amount of email sessions is important is because many email correspondences are just longer conversations and the more email you send, the more you accelerate those conversations. Limiting the frequency of my own email sessions is helpful and folks know that while I will respond to email almost every day, they shouldn't think of it as an instant ping. I do NOT for example route email to my cell phone and let folks think I'm responding to email that quickly.

I'm also always on the lookout for email threads that are better dealt with as phone conversations. Some topics are too complex or personal and are better off nipped in the bud in one phone call rather than turned into a inbox-busting email back and forth.

Another thing: aside from my mother, who will never get a handle on IM stuff, I have pretty much moved all personal correspondence off email and onto some kind of IM platform. I don't use Twitter for that stuff as my Twitter account at jonerp is more "on topic" and I prefer the one-on-one interactivity of IM for close friends, I doubt my Twitter followers want to hear me prattling on about off topic subjects like what I think of Real Time with Bill Maher or if the New England Patriots can make the playoffs without Tom Brady – though I do share that kind of thing occasionally on my Twitter feed, it is pretty rare.

Finally, I tend to keep my email responses to the short side, to create more efficiency on an email-by-email basis. This long-winded comment, for example, is much longer than my typical email.

So, I don't have a perfect solution and one-size-does-not-fit-all, but I will say that these things have helped.

- Jon Reed -

Luis Suarez November 26, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Hi Jon! Sorry, I just couldn't resist. I have gone through the lengthy comment you have shared above with Dennis and, boy, you are right spot on! Diversifying or specialising your inbox is the way to go! Yes, you still use e-mails, I do, too, for that 1:1 confidential subjects you mentioned above, but everything else will try to find its place elsewhere!

Your thoughts / tips are incredibly helpful, for sure! And a clear sign that anyone can do it, if they would want to change their work habits and fragment a bit their interactions. Glad to know we are on the same boat! Many many thanks for adding further up into Dennis' blog post. I will reference it in a follow up blog post some time soon!


Jon Reed November 27, 2008 at 2:28 am

Thanks Luis for the good words. I've been wanting to write a post on email management for a while, so this was a good warmup. The one thing I did not referece in my comment that I do believe is very valuable is what you and Chris referred to which is moving work-based projects to a wiki. I haven't actually done that as none of my projects fit that approach yet, but you can bet as soon as I have one that I can "wikify," I will – as there is no doubt this is effective, I've heard too many success stories to question it. I look forward to reading your follow up post.

- Jon -

Krupo November 29, 2008 at 10:50 am

Getting rid of e-mails in audit land -> good luck. :p

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