It has been four weeks since four of us (Kelly Smith, Jason O'Donnell, Matthew Quimby, Jamel Touati) from IBM Rational Customer Support organization embarked on the Amazing E-mail-Less Man adventure following on the footsteps of Luis Suarez to Work Outside The Inbox (WOTI).
So far we've covered the first three steps of the WOTI process:
- Step 1 - Stop Replying to E-mail
- Step 2 - Group Conversations and Identify Use Cases
- Step 3 - Move Conversations to the Right Home
The fourth (and last but not least) step in the WOTI process is: Step 4 - Record Progress, Set an Example and Act as a Change Agent in the organization. It might not sound that exciting, but we're confident the results will eventually be thrilling!
We've recorded our progress on a weekly basis since we started, tracking our Inbox and Outbox.
The WOTI program began in the middle of week 1 on Wednesday, February 1st (see Fig 1). In Fig 2, the data for week 1 is extrapolated and adjusted to estimate the numbers of e-mails for the missing two days to build a full week. Note that the left side access are the team totals for our inboxes, while the right side axis is our team totals for our outboxes:
We are already seeing some encouraging results!
We are moving in the right direction with lower incoming and outgoing e-mail although we are not yet ready to scream victory ... We are going through a learning process as we continue to educate people on the value of WOTI. This requires passion, persistence and patience! (It took Luis Suarez time before he moved to the Canary Islands! Where would you be if your Inbox were empty?)
We strive to set ourselves as examples, but still act in our own way as change agents in this effort. We exchange our experiences, brainstorm and share knowledge on a weekly basis about what worked for each of us.
Leading organizational change with a great idea like WOTI requires a fundamental belief that there are long term values for ourselves and the overall organization and it is very rewarding to see everyday new adopters of the WOTI way of doing business! We hope that you are also on your way with your own WOTI initiative in your organization, and we'll be very happy to hear about your progress and look forward to learning from each other.
In the meantime, recording is in progress and we'll continue to update you with our findings and experiences in future blogs ...
image credit: (cc) Some rights reserved by thewaxgrid
Vacation. The word alone strikes both a visceral and dichotomous chord in any and all who hear it. On one hand it triggers a wistful longing or deep anxiousness to get to it, but on the other hand, well that's where things take a turn... for those of us in the corporate world, vacation means returning to an exploded inbox after a week of ignored email. It means that even as we are away from work, basking in the fact that we have no responsibilities for the week, deep down there is that knowledge and fear of what awaits us upon our return. I'm sure at least a few of us have already recoiled in horror at the thought of actually disconnecting and taking a week's vacation.
Thankfully, a few of us in Rational Support have a tool (or rather, concept) to help us deal with that anxiety which makes returning from vacation so much less stressful: our drive to work outside of the inbox. Now, admittedly, it didn't help me return from vacation wholly without fear, but instead, it assuaged that fear nearly immediately once I did return....
Take a moment and think about the last time you took vacation.... how many emails were waiting for your return? Two hundred? Three hundred? One thousand? Somewhere in between? Enough to make returning to work a daunting proposition I'm sure!
Well, imagine returning to the office to find only 138 total emails in your inbox! Moreso, imagine 50% of those messages being irrelevant spam/sales emails and auto-notifications. That's what I came back to. Now, do the quick math and you'll see that my inbox really only held 64 messages for me which required attention... even more luckily, about half of those were only informational and didn't require any direct action. By the time Monday was over, I was nearly 100% caught up from my prior week off. Prior to our WOTI (working outside the inbox) efforts, being caught up by Monday evening would have been inconceivable; a daydreamer's fantasy at best.
The great news? Just because my inbox was reduced substantially from prior vacations' totals, this doesn't mean I am privy to less information... rather, because of our heavy use of wikis, forums, and blogs, all the information I missed during my time away is still available, relevant, and searchable. Instead of digging in to my inbox to disposition emails and categorize accordingly, most of that content was now visible in my RSS reader and already categorized and dispositioned, or even handled for me via internal crowd sourcing as an effect of the networks of connections around me.
Because this information was now being shared in collaborative spaces instead of siloed inboxes, I was able to be more effective more quickly upon my return from vacation and focus on the work that really matters.
image credit: (cc) Some rights reserved by Sarah_Ackerman
Last week Lifehacker shared out this blog post by Jesse Stormier: "Put Your Inbox in the Upstairs Bathroom". And it immediately clicked for me: living inside the inbox is just too easy. This, of course, makes the shift to living outside the inbox even more difficult, as people don't change until the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change.
This really can come down to a chicken or egg issue: is our addiction to email fueled by the ease of use, or is the ease of use driven by our addiction? In either case the solution, in part, is just as easy. In Jesse's post he notes how he switched from a slick GUI client and push notifications to using a command line email client, akin to putting his inbox as far away from him as his upstairs bathroom. Now, for a Unix guru that's a rather elegantly simple solution, as he is more than comfortable with the command line I'm sure. I'm even guessing it would work for a number of you reading this post here on developerWorks as well, knowing your technical excellence often has you playing on the command line.
Me? I'm lazy. While putting my inbox in the upstairs bathroom is a grand idea (my home office is upstairs, so it really isn't much of a trip at all), going as far as using Mutt on the CLI to access it is more akin to putting my inbox in my backyard, or for other people it may even be closer to their postal box down the street. Making email hard to use isn't really the point of "working outside of the inbox". Rather, the intent is to improve our collaborative efforts using tools better suited to the tasks and not automatically default to using email unless it really is the right tool for the job. So, let's make it easy!
Ok, but where's the solution? What's the recommendation? Two simple parts come to mind here:
Turn off notifications- More than anything, notifications are likely the biggest contributor to time wasted in the inbox. It is human nature to want to clear a flag, or notice, or other indicator that there is an email waiting for us. This is even more compounded if you have any obsessive/compulsive tendencies at all. The need to address a notice immediately can often be too great to ignore, and thus the interruption occurs. (Just in the time I've taken writing this post I've scurried off to deal with no less than 5 notifications about email messages arriving and awaiting my action.) So turn them off. Notices are much easier to ignore if you can't see them.
Close your email client when you aren't using it- As simple as it sounds, for me this is more akin to putting my inbox in the upstairs bathroom. I don't have to go through the extra effort of accessing it via command line, since the time taken to actively think about checking my messages then open my email client and wait for it to load is sufficient. Out of sight out of mind, right? Don't leave it running but minimized, or in another browser tab but not focused. Close it. Completely.
With these two easy bits covered, my last recommendation will be to schedule specific and focused time in your day to address your inbox messages, freeing you from the shackles of your inbox the rest of the day! I know a few people around here only deal with email first thing in the morning when they arrive to work, and last thing before they leave (in between, of course, is when real work is being done and collaboration occurring all across the organization in the right tools for the jobs at hand). Or perhaps scheduling three times to check: on arrival, right after lunch, and again before leaving for the day.
Regardless of how you go about it, finding what works for you is the key to enjoying a life outside of your inbox. I assure you, it is absolutely worth the mild pain of change!
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Well, it's Week 2 of the grand WOTI experiment, and things are moving along swimmingly. We've got a nice little race shaping up in the Sent email department. Jason put us all to shame Week 1, by sending a grand total of three, count 'em, THREE (3) emails, easily winning the WOTI Overachiever of the Week Award. Week 2, we're all settled in for the long haul, and so i thought it would be a good time to discuss Step 2: Group Conversations and Identify Use Cases.
Luis Suarez tells us that it's easiest to first break up the mail in your inbox into 2 categories: Things That Belong in My Inbox and Things That Don't.
Things That Belong in My Inbox
- personal/sensitive/1-1 conversations
Things That Don't
- Everything else. Potentially.
We've started breaking down the "everything else" bucket and grouping them into use cases. We'll be looking to move that information or transaction to a better home.
In a lot of cases, especially in these early days, that means transitioning closed conversations/ tasks/ knowledge-sharing to a more collaborative/open venue, and turning "bad" email into "good" email (auto-notifications). And yes, you are right.... in the short term, that does nothing to reduce the amount of email we get .... but it ensures that the artifacts of that work are shared as openly as possible, with our inboxes becoming the messaging system they were meant to be, NOT the repository of all corporate knowledge.
Here are some ideas:
- Requests for work can be better managed through work items in Rational Team Concert or "to dos" in Lotus Connections activities.
- Regular status updates/tips and tricks/project status emails can be posted as blog entries in your Connections community, and aggregated as collections through tagging.
Again, it all comes down to mindful processing of email, and spending just a couple of extra moments to stop and think .... is this the best way to share this information? Is anyone else likely to need this knowledge in the future?
Think NOT just of the immediate, tactical need for information or action, but the ability to capture that knowledge/action for reuse so that the entire organization can benefit in the future, and not re-invent the wheel, or waste time recreating knowledge assets that folks aren't sharing.
Is there a better way than email? I bet there is!
Jason, Matthew, and I are on a mission ... a mission to take our lives and our work back from the inbox.
Email is a great tool ... for a few things. It is NOT a great tool for many things that we currently use it for today: discussions, decision-making, file sharing, file repositories, questions & answers, newsletters, announcements.
We have the collaborative technology. We have the skilz. It's just a matter of "walking the talk", and persevering. A whole lot of persevering.
So we start today, with the Luis Suarez Magical 3 Step Pattern:
- Stop replying to email
- Identify conversations/tasks (use cases) that can be accomplished more easily, more transparently, more efficiently, or with less cost with another social tool.
- Start moving those conversations/tasks to their appropriate home. Slowly and surely.
Honestly, I've been such a collaborative harpy for so long, we are doing a lot of this already. But now we're going to do it mindfully and consciously, and track our results like Luis did.
We'll also be providing updates on our progress here, along with the technical content you've come to rely on.