Emails – the worm is turning

In August, Daimler, that august Stuttgart-based car-maker, revealed that 100,000 of its employees can now opt to have their emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday, with senders being notified that their message will not be received and given the name of an another person to contact.

(As an aside, imagine if the sender’s firm had the same policy – emails could ping backwards and forwards ad infinitum.)

Yet, it is not just holidays and weekends that can be ruined by the never-ending digital contact. In fact, it is now being widely recognised that emails interfere with our working day – the urge to check and recheck for emails and open them disrupts productive work and thought, the argument runs.

Certainly the digitally switched-on (or should that be switched-off?) folk, only look at emails when they plan to, for example a couple of times a day, rather than almost continuously.

One leading guru in corporate strategy that I know “only looks at his emails every Wednesday”, his admittedly anachronistic PA told me recently.

A near neighbour of Falconbury’s on Silicon Roundabout (new for Old Street!), Kathryn Parsons, the CEO of Decoded, was reported in last week’s Evening Standard as having got rid of her email account and switched her office over to a system called Slack (the tagline of which is: Be less busy).

Studies show that, on average people, spend over 13 hours each week just working out what they were thinking about before they looked at their emails!

The truth seems to be that sending emails, for most people, is not the same as getting things done. It is just communication.

So, if in Silicon Valley itself, they are already “transitioning to the ‘post email world’ “, maybe it is time we all should review our email practices: to be disciplined about when to use it at all, to challenge whether it is the best way to deal with an issue, to liberate ourselves from the email psychosis we all suffer from and actually start thinking clearly and communicating only essentially.

I had a pal who once worked for the British Council in the Sudan many years ago and he told me on his first day, his head of station said to him – “Look, just put everything in your in-tray straight into your out-tray; only deal with the stuff that then comes back – you’ll be amazed how little actually does.”

Maybe that’s a possible approach to email: go from inbox to outbox – just as Daimler has advised!

Published on Oct 03, 2014 by Martin Thomas