Put the Mail back in EMail

Tim Ferris, in his book titled, ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ discusses the danger of email and what it has done to our level of productivity – “email has become chat mail”. Consider your own work. Yes, email has a place and can add a lot of value, some of the time… however, most of the time it’s likely just a constant barrage of semi-important information that takes quiet productivity time away and often means you operating in what Steven Covey would call, quadrant 1 – the unimportant but urgent environment. We have created a system that is dragging us all down, and how we manage it needs to change  because it’s not going away.

The Harvard Business Review points to a 2014 study by careerbuilder.com which suggests email accounts for 23% of an employees day. That was 4 years ago. In my subjective view, it’s probably now a lot closer to double that, if not more. It’s time to change.

I’ve worked in teams before where it was encouraged that we only check our emails a couple of times a day. But the problem is, that unless this is company culture, it is very difficult to implement, as your coworkers and your bosses often expect responses more immediately. The system operates as though everyone is always glued to their emails. In fact many systems would now fail if that wasn’t the case.

Yet, the ironic hypocrisy is that at the same time there’s a push to get people off their  blackberries during meetings. Banning electronics has been one of the favourite topics of ‘forward thinking’ leaders and companys. But that’s just taking the simple (and flawed) approach of tackling a  symptom, not the real cause.  I’m pretty sure everyone doesn’t want to be attached to their devices 18 hours day, while trying to be present in their many meetings. So, don’t put the blame on those checking their devices. Blame the culture and system you’ve created and change that. Here’s how:

Limit email to certain windows – Just like mail was opened at a certain time each day, the same should be for email. For instance, the same one-hour morning window when email can be accessed across the company will allow employees to ‘open their mail’. Access is then closed until another window is opened later in the day, which allows any responses to be made. During all other times, the email system can be accessed but only in the offline mode. I am sure that this will have a profound effect on our levels of productivity. How often have we had to come into work early, stay late or work weekends so we don’t have the usual disruptions that email brings?

No email Friday – no emails should be sent or received internal to the company passed midday on a Friday. This would then allow for ‘recovery time’ and avoid opening that email at 4 pm on Friday, which lingers in your head all weekend. This is what burns us out, and this is what hurts productivity.

Allow ‘golden bullets’ – there will be times when these rules will need to be broken, but this should be very rare and should be reserved for very unique/urgent situations. I’m talking an email or two every few months, at the most. If you’re in an organisation that is constantly getting last minute requests with extremely tight timelines, then you need to look at the causes of this and change them. If not all we’re ever going to be doing is treading water. And we’ve come to believe we can do this forever. At some point with have to swim to the side and start building an island.

But wait, how do you now send or receive emails that require instant feedback or have a ridiculous deadline of a couple of hours (don’t get me started, what’s that saying – sh$t in, Sh&t out?).

Well,  I think that if you can’t imagine this sort of policy working in your company then you have a much bigger issue because what you’re saying is that the current status quo can sustain itself…

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