E-mail sucks (the life out of everyone).

About a year ago (in December 2011), Atos announced they were going to kill off any internal e-mail. Back then, people were pretty fast to think Atos were crazy, and that this was the worst possible idea ever. However, I'm starting to believe that they may be on to something, and here's why.

What's wrong with e-mail ?

  1. It's inefficient, and slow.
  2. It's a massive waste of time. Time is spent on formulating the correct response, rather than on acting.
  3. You can't trust the urgency of e-mail
  4. The younger generation currently being educated, sees e-mail as "old-fashioned" or "rigid"
  5. It's the wrong way of handling a conflict. I've seen much harsher replies in e-mails than when the same people actually talk face-to-face.
  6. People use it for storing information they "may need later".

How does e-mail waste time ?

Atlassian (Creators of collaborational software like Jira), have a neat infographic on the waste of time occuring in everyday professional life.

One of the major time wasters in e-mail communication, is the time spent "watching" e-mail. Most people will spend minutes or hours during the day, watching for new e-mail to avoid "missing" anything important, and as most e-mail accounts are filled with a mish-mash of important/important-later-but-not-now/useless information, it's clear to see why this fear exists in most people.

Furthermore, the rise of instant messaging, Facebook and texting (SMS), has made most people impatient when it comes to e-mail. Handling it as quickly as possible, deferring any tasks possible to someone else (by mail of course), and demanding responsetimes like on instant messaging, makes e-mail reading and processing a stressful task.

As an example, when I look at my inbox at work, the content can be broken down like this:

  • One third is relevant, and contains information I need to do my job.
  • One third are questions or clarification issues, that could easily be gathered, and sent once during the day, or handled more efficiently using another approach, like Skype or face-to-face.
  • One third is pure noise, that doesn't belong in e-mail. Information about parties, rules for using the kitchen, funny links etc.

At home, my inbox is even worse, due to the amounts of newsletters I get, notifications from Github, Twitter etc.

So should we just start texting each other on our phones ?

No. But we should all get better at using the messaging protocols we have at our disposal. Instead of writing long, intricate e-mails, try keeping to shorter points and questions, suitable for simpler, faster communication forms (Like instant messaging).

Also, if there's a point to be made, that could be misinterpreted by a long e-mail, direct contact is by far a better approach.

A few steps to cut down on e-mail use

These are some of the changes I'm currently implementing, to limit my e-mail use:

Daily - Limit consumption of e-mail to 2-3 times daily. Preferably, only open e-mail in the morning and just after lunch.

Daily - Start out by responding to mails (Especially internal, corporate mails), on other media or face-to-face. Clarification takes way less time that way, and you have a better understanding of the other person's purpose.

Daily - If receiving important information, that you need further down the line, consider moving it to other systems asap. Account information like usernames and passwords are better stored elsewhere, documents should be stored somewhere with proper backup.

Weekly - Check up on any newsletters still appearing in your mail, ask yourself the following:

  • Do they have a newsfeed, that would allow you to import / read all news in one place, when you want, instead of having them crammed down your inbox ?
  • If not, is it still valuable enough to keep ?

A more radical approach

Setup an autoreply to all e-mail, explaining that you no longer accept e-mail, listing alternate ways of reaching you.

This is what my autoreply would look like:

Hi there!

I've received your e-mail, but I may not read it, as I'm trying to cut down on the time i spend on e-mail.

If you want to reach me, with possibly quicker responses, here's a few options you are able to use:

1. Skype - My account is jesperrasmussen.com
2. Twitter - jesperrasmussen
3. Facebook - http://facebook.com/jesperrasmussencom
4. LinkedIn - http://www.linkedin.com/in/wearedevelopers
5. SMS - If you get here, you probably know my number.

Have a great day!

You may experience slight discomfort as you step out of the e-mail addiction, but should pass quickly. Afterwards, enjoy your freedom, and take joy in the fact that you've reclaimed your precious time and energy from the claws of e-mail!