The omnipresence of email

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12 May 2014

In my series of posts on reconnecting with the world I have begun to consider and experiment with technology based approaches to become less connected and 'always on'.

The approach is analogous with setting boundaries within a relationship, specifically with what I need to do, what goals I can achieve in particular period of time and also to 'switch off' when I leave work.

One of the simplest methods of gaining headspace came from a passing judgment made by my friend, Francis. While out together one night. He noticed that I'd received a push notification from Gmail, and he said 'push for email? Anything ever that urgent?'.

He was right, nothing via email is ever that urgent.

Readdressing how and why we receive email might be the simples way to manage immense volumes of information pushed at us. For work alone I receive on average 75 emails per day, which is an email every six minutes. Every six minutes something competes for my already limited attention. My days are cloudy and lacking focus at best.

To manage this impossible onslaught of information I'm attempting two things:

Scheduling time for email

My inbox isn't going anywhere and as such I don't need to be reminded with useless urgency that I have yet another email, and most likely, another task to complete

I'm scheduling in 30 minutes every morning to process less-than-urgent email from the previous day, and another 45 minutes at the end of each day to go through the current day's email.

This time is also for me to be able to regroup, focus and consider what I must do that day.

Setting guidelines about what it is ok to email me about

As the Head of Production almost everything in an agency goes through me, and I'm the bottleneck for a lot of things.

My highest priority is shipping product out the door however, so I spend the most time making sure the development team has everything they need and clearing their way.

This has meant establishing a few expectations around email, such as not emailing me:

  1. Because you think I might want to know
  2. Unless you specifically want me to do something
  3. If you're about to walk up to me and talk to me about it as well
  4. If you could go directly to another person instead

But to email me:

  1. If I really should know
  2. It's something you can't communicate verbally (i.e. technical info)
  3. A client needs to know I'm across something

These guides aren't just for me either, it's also relevant the the trafficker who will receive the same amount of email—if not more—each day for requests that people will subsequently speak to her about, or isn't relevant.

Ny reducing the amount of email that we receive we're able to focus more of our attention on our workload and become far more productive.

Where email has become similar to text messaging, the quick firing of messages has neither improved productivity, knowledge sharing, nor moved us any closer to the end goal.

Of course there will always be the edge cases, where an emergency demands that the boundaries are scrapped, sure. But that's why they're boundaries and not 'rules'.

Email is a great way of communicating large volumes of information when used correctly, with omnipresence not being the right way.