Every week more and more organisations are waking up to the tyranny of email, and the part it is playing in the impending death of the office. We spend hours each week , up to four years of our lives, shifting low value (or no value) information from one place in our organisation to another.
Despite this, email apologists will tell you it doesn’t really need to be tamed . There really isn’t a problem: email , for all its faults, is the best thing we have right now.
I don’t believe that for a second.
ATOS chief Thierry Breton , who has banned internal email, estimated that barely 10% of the 200 messages his employees received on an average day were useful. ATOS calculated that managers spent between five and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails.
Nick Atkin of Halton Housing has announced that internal email will end from this February. He’s said it’s part of a fundamental rethink of how the organisation works, stating “We are taking back control from some of the systems and cultures we have all allowed to develop during the 20 years email has been part of our working lives.”
Email is undeniably wasteful but my problem with it runs deeper.
Email represents anti-social business. It locks down knowledge in silos. It reinforces hierarchy and disconnected thinking. It promotes an insidious system of cc’ing and , even worse , bcc’ing as a way of denying accountability.
Despite that I do use email – it still has uses, but needs replacing as the default way we choose to do work.
Is it possible to seriously tame email without turning it off completely?
Yes. I’ve managed to reduce the time I spend on email by about 75% by adopting six rules.
The results speak for themselves – when I took nearly 3 weeks off work last September I returned to only 20 emails.
So , in the spirit of open knowledge sharing, here’s my six tips for a saner inbox:
1: Don’t send any
This is by far the most effective thing you can do. Every email you send begs a reply – sometimes several. By pressing send you are literally making work for yourself – which is a pretty stupid thing to do. Copying people in to every email is not effective information sharing. There are loads of better tools for keeping people informed of what you’re working on (Note: they probably aren’t interested anyway.)
2: Use WhatsApp for chats
Since the formation of Bromford Lab , we’ve turned off in-team email and moved to Whatsapp. WhatsApp is great for creating groups and promoting a more social place to chat and interact without the annoyance of email threads. It eliminates team spam about cakes and whose birthday it is. And it’s loads more fun too.
3: Create a “Yesterbox”
The idea: Only deal with yesterday’s emails today.
The rule: If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it’s a simple one-word reply. You need to psychologically train yourself to not worry about emails that are coming in….
You can read an outline of the concept at Yesterbox.com
It’s worked well for me as you have a much better sense of which to prioritise – as well as ruthlessly deleting any that aren’t worthy of attention. Which leads us to…
4: Delete any that are three days old
This takes some bravery – but trust me it works. If you haven’t looked at something for three days it simply can’t be very important. Delete it. If anyone is bothered they will chase you up on it. 90% of the time they don’t – it was low value work that never really needed doing.
5: Restrict mail to just four sentences.
If you do get an email from me you’ll see this:
By cutting down the waffle and getting to the point you save time for yourself and the recipient. The link takes you to this site which explains why verbose mails are toxic. If you want to be more radical you can take it down to three lines, or if you’re really hardcore, two.
6: Unsubscribe from everything
Make it part of your day to unsubscribe from at least five email lists. Email marketeers breed like rabbits but you can stem the flow by turning off their constant distractions. Don’t just delete them and hope they will go away – they won’t. Also go into the notification settings of any work networks like Yammer you are part of. Turn them off – you’ll see a huge difference instantly.
I’ve seen radically different results from using these six tips, I hope you found them useful.
Please share any of yours in the comments section – if we get enough I’ll turn it into a slide deck.