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.
So we've got six weeks of the Working Outside the Inbox under our belts. The first five weeks were GREAT. We saw steady declines in our inboxes, and in the amount of mail we had to send out, and the proportion of good mail (per
Things were looking good for our fearless adventurers and we were riding the wave. Cowabunga!
Week 6? Not so much.
Which makes for a good blog topic. What about those speed bumps?
Sometimes, it all starts with one email. I'm sure you ALL have been there. One individual sends an email to a very wide recipient list. The recipients start replying .... to ALL. After a while, more folks chime in, either with their take on the situation or begging people to take the discussion elsewhere. Some of the other people on the email thread .. their heads (and their inboxes) are exploding. Several requests to move the email thread to a discussion forum prove fruitless, and there you go.
Or, you might be working on a sensitive project that is not suitable for sharing, or are dealing with an executive request (also not suitable for sharing). Sometimes email IS the best solution.
Perhaps you are working an urgent issue/project with people who are far outside your group, and driving them to a more collaborative solution is just not possible at this time. That's ok too.
Repeat after me, one more time: Change is hard.
This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. There will be speed bumps and there will be weeks that go better than others. And that's OK.
Don't get discouraged, keep on keeping on, and even when things are going pear-shaped, look for the wins. You might have a huge email thread going on, but you've also got a lot more people than ever before realizing that it's not the best way. And what about all those other wins you've realized ... use cases identified, patterns adopted. There's good stuff happening - a lot of it.
And remember, each speed bump is just another opportunity to model a better, a SMARTER way of working.
Well, your intrepid adventurers have 3 days of Working Outside the Inbox under our belts and I thought this a would be a good time to discuss in a little more depth about how we are doing this.
Lets start with Step 1: Stop replying to email. This step would really be more accurately described as Mindful Processing of Email but that doesn't sound nearly as provocative and attention-grabbing, and wouldn't make nearly so many people's heads explode, which wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
So listen: this is what we are really doing.
Think of this as stopping the reflexive knee-jerk reaction of working in your inbox, simply reading and replying. We've all become very well trained by our inboxes: receive an email, send an email. Read your incoming email and then...
Stop. Think. Ask yourself a few questions along these lines:
Change begins with us (and you!)
Here are some wild and crazy ideas on how you can work effectively and openly and without being chained to your inbox:
Use the content repository or content management system of your choice as long as it's NOT YOUR MACHINE. Don't become the bottleneck, or the single point of failure. Put your stuff where people can find it and get it. When people email and ask you for that information, give them a link to the information where you've posted it.
Use wiki pages for knowledge capture and on-demand access. One example, instead of keeping your project status or metrics in a spreadsheet on your machine, think open and transparent and provide that data on a wiki page. if your manager expects a weekly status report, put it there.
discussion forums for collaboration, idea sharing and brai
Use the community blog for news, announcements, and community-wide communications. Why blog? To take advantage of all the technology that allows us to share knowledge more widely ... tags, RSS feeds, aggregators, search.... the list goes on. Rather than sending an 800mg email that immediately plunges 20% of your unsuspecting audience into "mail jail", try blogging your news. Oh, the 80% who aren't in mail jail? I posit that 40% will not read it anyway, either deliberately or by accident when it scrolls "below the fold" amidst a barrage of other people sending news, asking questions, and, worst of all, sharing files.
Besides, I bet a couple of weeks from now, someone's going to ask you for the information again anyway.
Speaking of sharing files.... There are better ways. Instead of mailing a slide deck to 10 people for review and comments, use Connections and if you MUST send an email, send a link to where you have posted the file (or the wiki page from which you are working) so that it can benefit the greatest number of people, who can then bookmark it / subscribe to it / grab the RSS feed, or otherwise self-serve when they need the information. Which means the doc owner doesn't need to send the updated file out to a cast of thousands either.
Oh, it all just makes so much SENSE.
So no, we're not giving up email entirely, and there will be times that we will (gasp!) send an email. We're just going to be mindful in our work and aim to get the maximum value from each interaction.
So, stop and think.
Just because a conversation starts in email doesn't mean it belongs there.
AcdntlPoet 2700019V2G Visits (1740)
From the list below, it would appear that this past year you all were big on some of our thought leadership items. Following are the top ten (well technically eleven, but 6 fall under a single topic, so I figured I owed you at least one more) posts which garnered the largest number of views over the course of 2012:
From our Working outside the Inbox series:
This list was built by you, and for you! Thank you all for your continued loyalty and support of this blog. As you all know we strive to get you the best support content and help you solve or avoid problems before you need us. It is you, our audience, who keep us working hard to find that content you need and who make this blog a possibility to continue. We are very happy that by virtue of your numbers, we can see that you are indeed finding value in the content we provide, and that alone makes this all worthwhile.
AcdntlPoet 2700019V2G Visits (1690)
Yup, we're still "working outside the inbox" here.
Along with Luis Suarez Kelly Smith and I continue driving and evangelizing the idea in hopes it will take hold and help create a new business culture of open, transparent, and collaborative work. To that end, I recently built a presentation now hosted on Slideshare to help illustrate our efforts as we documented them here in our Notes from Rational Support "WOTI" blog series. We've tried to distill the core concepts, ideals, and recommendations down to their essence and provide an easy to consume presentation. I hope you not only enjoy the presentation deck, but also find it helpful in your own quest to reduce email and increase your effectiveness.
AcdntlPoet 2700019V2G Visits (2381)
With Kelly moving on to her new role, we (she and I) thought this would make a perfect time to set another milestone on our Working Outside the Inbox (WOTI) series with some lessons learned, some failures, and some successes as well. Make no mistake though, just because we are recapping our blog series does not mean we are abandoning the WOTI ideas and principles. Far from it, in fact. As you'll find below, from our experiences with the initiative we are more dedicated than ever to using the right tools for open and transparent collaboration.
First up, where did we see our failures?
But let us not despair, for these failures didn't diminish our successes! Surprisingly, even without dedicated focus or and organized official initiative in place, all of us participating here found some level of reduction in frivolous email.
And lastly, what WERE our lessons learned from all this?
Did you miss any of this blog series? Fret not, faithful readers, here is the complete topic list which you can also find via the woti tag:
AcdntlPoet 2700019V2G Visits (3814)
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:
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!
AcdntlPoet 2700019V2G Visits (9536)
You know the pain: You're on a team, likely in a support role covering the phones on shift work taking calls from clients. Or, perhaps you're on a project team, covering some critical piece of the puzzle, or waiting on a colleague to close out their piece so you can move forward... And your inboxes are bulging at the seams with both critical information as well as those "nice to know" status updates.
In so many cases, we all find ourselves under this barrage of status update emails, FYIs, and other important, yet immediately unnecessary and irrelevant messages. Do we need to know that you'll be off the phones for the next hour or two? Do we need to know you're working from home for half the day? Yes, we likely do. Do we need to know that information right now? No, we only "need to know" when we need to know, and likely will only care or even remember if the information gets to us right at the moment we need to know. Is an e-mail the best, most effective and efficient way to let people know? Likely not.
But what IS the better way? That answer, dear readers, all depends on your team. There is no single best practice or use case to follow here. Each team has differing needs and demands based on location, shift, task, or even management preferences. While I can't do anything for the last, perhaps there are some solutions to address the others which will in turn help convince management of better ways if that is a concern:
kellypuffs 06000168YK Visits (3450)
When I first started writing this blog post, it was going to be about ALL the things that drive me crazy when they arrive in email. But then I realized that it was a loooong list .... a Herculean effort, especially if your inbox reminds you of the Augean Stables BEFORE the big clean-out. Unfortunately, we'll have to go about it the old-fashioned way ... one shovel-ful at a time.
So, if you too want to work smarter, more openly, transparently, and effectively, you'll need to pick your battle. One at time, look at the pain points or areas of inefficiency and look to make one change at a time.
What's a better way to share files then? A link to where you've posted THE file is infinitely preferable. Nearly all available file repositories support some type of direct linking. Why not host the file in a single location and share that location out? Not only will this reduce our inbox sizes and keep us out of mail-jail, but it also means you only have to update one location when changes occur, rather than sending out another round of messages with yet another attachment.
So, a good place to start? Start sharing YOUR files more smartly, and set an example for others, Gently guide others to bettter collaboration methods, and file storage methods.
I'm happy to report that I receive very few files in email anymore. I'd love to hear YOUR experience.
jtouati 270000UJFK Visits (4954)
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: