Tag Archives: email

I Have Seen the Enemy, and It Is Email

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I occasionally offer a rant on how email may be destroying the universe, which a few hundred of you appropriately receive by email as encouraged by yours truly.  The word sanctimonious describes me if just to give hypocrite a break.

But, still, I believe that email may be destroying the universe!  And although it would surprise us all, I may be an actual prophet.  A hypocritical, sanctimonious prophet for sure, but a prophet nonetheless.

I shared a Harvard Business Review article in March that proposed the elimination of email.  The latest issue of TIME magazine offered a mini-article titled, “Why we’re addicted to email—and how to fix it.”  The Atlantic shared a video last week that explained “How an Editor Stays at Inbox Zero.”

Though I’m sensing a growing recognition of the problem, I have yet to hear much of a solution.  The TIME article’s conclusion as to how to fix an addiction to email is that “we must learn to say no to some opportunities, in order to say yes to our priorities.”  There you go addicts, problem solved!  And The Atlantic‘s video was all about how to email efficiently (i.e., three sentence emails or fewer; dispense with a salutation, etc.).  Sorry, but increased efficiency simply tells me that I can (must?) handle more volume.

So what to do?

  • Step #1: Recognize the problem. It is growing and powerful.
  • Step #2: Rant about it in appropriate places. I have found that email works well.  (Ha!)
  • Step #3: Adopt all preliminary suggestions you find in magazines. In other words, do your best not to drown while waiting for help to arrive.
  • Step #4: Come up with a miraculous solution. I’m still fleshing out how this step works but feel good about its substance.

Hate to post and run, but I need to go work on a miraculous solution.  First, I should check my email.

Emancipation

An article in the online edition of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention: “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email: Reasonable Attempts to Tame It Are Doomed to Fail.”  Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the article arrived via email.

The author (Cal Newport, Georgetown professor) is apparently serious, and as one of the “inbox-enslaved individuals” he describes, I appreciate his attempt at a Technological Emancipation Proclamation.  He accurately portrays my people’s need “to constantly check their inbox and feel great guilt or unease about the possibility of unanswered communication awaiting attention” and that “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking.”

So, he suggests chunking it.  He writes, “The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses.”

I think he is crazy.  Which is partly why I love it.  But more importantly, and I’m speaking as one highly skilled in email management, I think the day is coming when the email problem has to be addressed.  As Professor Newport concludes, “if workplace trends continue as they are, [his crazy/stupid/fruitcake idea] might one day soon seem less less like an interesting thought experiment and more like a necessary call to action.”

Email allows us to be so stinking available, efficient, and responsive that we no longer have time to work (in fact, that becomes our work)–or, tragically, to live.  In his delirious alternate universe, Professor Newport envisions: “[W]hen you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there is no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.”

Can you imagine such a thing?  I can imagine.  In fact, I can almost even remember.