Overworked: Is killing email the solution?

Unknown-1Are you one of those who have thousands or hundreds of emails waiting to be dealt with when coming home from vacation? I guess the answer is yes, if you are not one of those who read your work mail also when having time off.

Some of us use the out-of-office function in our mail client from time to time, saying things like “I am out of office until x-date and will not be able to deal with your email until I am back”.

This automated message tells the sender that nothing will happen until you are back. So maybe your automated should also give a message that told the sender who to connect with while you are away – or maybe all email should be re-routed to a colleague on duty?

Anyhow – there are lots of emails to deal with when you get back. If you are brave enough you could formulate an automated answer like Joana Breidenbach of charity fundraisers Betterplace. Send a mail to her when she is on a vacation and you get an automated answer like this:

” Many thanks for your mail. Unfortunately I won’t be able to read it, as I am taking my annual email sabbatical. From August 1-29 all my emails will be automatically deleted. See you in September, Yours Joana.”

Wow, what a brave woman! Wish I dared to do that! Instead I keep all the incoming mail in my inbox and return an automated message saying something like ” I am out of office from x-date to y-date and will not be able to answer any mail. If urgent please call my colleague XYZ on X-phone number. I will deal with your email when I am back”.

The clue is then to sort you inbox when you are back again and only deal with the important ones. First thing I do is sort the emails using the “Blueberries” to sort them (a function in IBM Notes). “Blueberries” as I call them are small dots marking each email whether the email is for me only, for me and four more people or for lots and lots of people.

All the mails with an open dot (not filled with blue color) I instantly delete without even opening them. Those mails are mostly for information to a whole range of people and are usually of no interest to me, nor have a content that is imperative for my tasks and goals.

All the emails with a half full dot are for me and four others. This is typical for mail that concerns a small group of people, especially people working close together on a team or on a project. These mails I do not delete, but set on hold until I have dealt with those mails that are addressed to me only, which is indicated with a full blue dot.

These are the mails I work through first and decide there and then what to do with them. Are there any action I have to do? Could I do it in two minutes before I open the next mail? If so – I do it there and then without delay! Done is done! Next email!

If there are mails that do not expect any action from me, but have important information I should read later, then I flag the mail for later action – which to me means no more than 24 hours!

My personal mail regime is that there should be maximum 5 mails in my inbox at the end of office hours. All those five mails should be flagged and have to be dealt with before end of next work day!

I do not use folders in my mailbox. Folders and archives are where documents and emails go to die. Folders and archives are – in my mind – the graveyard of knowledge. Only documents and email on travel, in action, has a real value.

Think of it: If you have a marriage contract with your spouse on how things (economy, house and other stuff) should be split between you if, by any chance (50 % of all marriages in my country ends with divorces), you should get divorced – what value does that contract/agreement have while there are only happy days? None, whatsoever! The document is stored in the safe and has no value until it gets activated when the war is firing up! Then it has a value.

So what do I do with email I have to store? Well, I do not store them – I share them with my team in communities, in project rooms or in customer communities. Because those creates dialogue around the documents and the mails. Because more people than myself can learn from those emails and documents and we all learn more together from the dialogues we share.

In my mind a dialogue around a document has more value than the document itself. Because a document is created by one brain only, but dialogues are from a number of brains. And a number of brains have more creativity, more knowledge and more processor power than just one.

I call this “The Clustering of Brains”. Those of you who know how we cluster data servers to balance the workload, to secure information and to speed up processing performance, will know what I mean. It is the same with brain clusters.

So I bring my information, my mail, my documents out in the open. It reduces my inbox, improve my productivity, improve my skills and gives my a better load balance (the balance between my work life, private life and my private values).

So maybe my new out-of-office message should be something like this:

” Thank you for sending me email. If I am only one of many, many other receivers I will never read it. If it is only for me or a group of five I will read it during work hours and take action at latest tomorrow. I never read attachments in emails. Please share them in a community where all stakeholders may share dialogues around the document and share ideas – to make us all more productive. For short messages please call me on phone or chat me. Have a nice and productive day!”

Or something like that…