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 (1824)
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 (1774)
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.