Today I quit email at work. No longer will I be concerned with managing a torrent of emails every day. No more. I was inspired to tackle this challenge after seeing Asana’s blog post “30 Days Without Email“. Being a heavy user of Asana I figured this approach makes perfect sense so why not give it a go. It’s going to take a lot of dedication and I’m sure a few eyebrows will be raised from colleagues, but it’s time to stop “doing email” and start being productive. So how can I work without email and why would I want to? Let’s find out.
In my 9-to-5 job I work for an international company headed out of the US. Being based in Australia that means during the night there is a number of emails that are distributed from other regions. In the morning that leaves me with at least 20 unread email threads. Many of them are blasts to a distribution list and so have little impact on my daily workload (apart from giving me more email to process). I’m a doer and “doing email” is not something that resonates with me.
Types of Communication
The phone and face to face communication is sorely lacking in use these days. It often takes longer to compose an email and get a reply than it would to simply pickup the phone and call the person. With email there’s always the concern about tone and if the recipient might misinterpret part of the email. There’s none of that with phone and face to face communication.
There are two main areas when it comes down to any interaction you have with someone. Either the interaction requires further action, or the interaction is a conversation with no required action. Sometimes a conversation will lead to actions for me to complete and other times there’s nothing extra for me to worry about.
Actions are any item that requires further input. I use Asana for absolutely everything I need to do. It is my “system of action.” Any action that I need to take I put straight into Asana, as soon as I think of it. Previously when I received an email asking me to take care of something, I would take the main actions from that email and manually enter them into Asana. I’m still in the process of bringing the team I work with to terms with how powerful Asana is, so after creating the task I would reply to their email.
Now if someone sends me an email that asks me to do something I will still add it to Asana, but then I’ll be adding the sender as a follower to the task and respond to them from within Asana. By doing this I can further reinforce the strength of contextual collaboration, which Asana does so well. Teamwork without email.
I am also encouraging anyone who sends me an email to create the task(s) for me themselves directly in Asana and then assign them to me. Every time I receive an email from someone inside the company they get an automated reply. The reply message asks them to create the task in Asana for me.
When I’m being asked casual questions and there’s no obvious action for me to take I am encouraging people to use the phone, come and visit me at my desk, or use our internal chat tools. These mediums are so much more real-time than email and so much more reliable. By picking up the phone, for example, the other person immediately has my full attention.
That’s not always ideal from my point of view though, since it has the potential to pull me in too many different directions at once. The goal of this whole experiment is to allow me to get more of the right things done, not end up being constantly distracted while attempting to do anything at all. So in the event that I’m in the middle of a focused spurt (using focus booster as my pomodoro timer) I’ll either ignore the calls and deal with voicemail, or ask the other person to schedule some time to meet with me.
Meetings are a big part of what I do. Conversations can often become highly technical and lengthy. In these instances I ask the other person to send a meeting invitation to me so that I can continue working on my task list and I have clear visibility about what I need to focus on and when.
No Email? Not Really.
Receiving those meeting invitations requires email, uh oh. So this is one of two exceptions I’ll be making. Email will still play a pivotal role in what I do day-to-day and so I will still need to process my inbox on a daily basis. However, asking for people to schedule time in my calendar will not only give me better visibility into where I’m needed, but I believe will also help the other parties in planning out upcoming events.
The other exception to the “no email” rule is external email. It would be unfair of me to place the same rules of communication on customers and partners. In any case, any email that ends up in my inbox will be processed much less frequently than any other channel I can be contacted on. I will be checking email twice a day only.
How It’s Done
I’m already feeling liberated by this new approach to interactions. I’m using Outlook 2011 for Mac. If you want to give it a try, here’s what I’ve done.
1. Open Rules. From the menu select Tools > Rules…
2. Don’t auto-reply when the email is a reply to something you’ve sent. This rule must be before the actual auto-reply rule.
3. Setup the auto-reply conditions. First, create the following conditions:
- “From | Contains | @company.com” This will mean that the auto-reply will only be sent to people inside your company.
- “From | Is Not | your own email address” This rule prevents a never-ending loop of emails be sent to and from yourself.
- “In Not from a Mailing List” There’s no point reply to a mailing list, so skip them.
- Any other exclusions. The screenshot below adds conditions to stop the reply from being sent when the sender is a notification from some internal system.
Then, configure the action as being a Reply and click on “Reply Text…” to edit your message.
Here is the reply message I have setup in case you want to use it as a basis for your own.
Hi, and thank you for taking the time to email me.
In an effort to cut down on inbox clutter and focus on delivering quality solutions, I’m moving out of Outlook.
Here’s how you can reach me.
If you’d like me to take care of something or take action on something, add it to Asana and assign it to me. We can talk there. If you would like to learn more about Asana I’m happy to help.
If you’d like to talk to me about anything that is not related to something in Asana, you can reach me on the internal chat tools, via phone, or in person (come see me or book a meeting for longer chats).
Thanks for your support,
So switch on that auto-reply and go DO!