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What I learned from giving up Email

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Some of you might have read my blog on why I was giving up emails and relying on phone calls. While I was the one who suggested it, I was also dreading it.  When I wrote that blog I hated phone calls and thought they were disruptive and only benefitted the person making the call. I would have gladly left my phone on ‘do not disturb’ forever (if I could get away with it). 

Now, my phone is open for business, I’m more productive and I only check my emails four times a day. Here’s what I learned from my week long experiment:

It’s all about balance

At first only allowing myself to check emails twice a day was extreme and made coordinating meetings, checking calendar availability and booking meeting rooms difficult. It was also tricky to say no to email when 80% of the people I encountered chose email as their main form of communication. It meant picking up the phone to ask them if ‘Wednesday at 11’ suited them instead of wasting time going back and forth on options.

It’s not as simple as just cutting yourself off from emails. If you want to work effectively you have to find the right balance that works for you, and your colleagues.

Now to avoid email distractions I shut down Outlook while working on each task and limit myself to checking emails when I arrive at work, got back from a break or finished a task. This is much less disruptive, yet I’m still contactable and feel on top of things.

The power of saying no

I’m used to filtering my responses through email. If someone asks me a question I can mull it over and spend time deciding on the best and most PC way of responding. Being faced with a desk bomb request or a demanding phone call was new territory for me. I had to learn to say no – an essential skill in business.

It’s important to give yourself time to consider things – email gives us that. In person, you can give yourself the same luxury by simply saying ‘not yet’, or ‘let’s meet tomorrow and go through it’. Assess is it worth your time, and if you have the time to do it. Does it meet your overall goals? Is there a ROI? What will the outcomes be?

Learning to do this has meant that I’m managing my workload better and saying no to commitments that I can’t give my all to.

How to be more productive

Even if you’re not like me and dawdle over wording your emails – your inbox can still be distracting in another way. No matter how disciplined you are, the ping of an email is too alluring to ignore. It’s all down to how our brain is wired – a fight or flight response mechanism that kept us alive on the grassy plains of Africa but is now killing our ability to focus in modern, attention deficit society.

Now every time I open a new email I ask whether I should be ringing or meeting the person instead. One email might seem like it’s a quick solution, but while you wait for their response to come in, you’ll probably waste time.

Dedicating yourself to your core tasks for the day and not chasing demanding emails is a more efficient and fulfilling way to work. Got an urgent email request? Pick up the phone and solve the issue head on.

What now – after the Out Of Office

I admit, as my workload increases I do revert to my safety blanket – phone off, head down. Then the emails build up and I’m right back where I started. But I know that doesn’t work for me, and I’m working to change it. One thing has changed though – I don’t shudder when my phone rings (not all the time anyway), and I’m relying less on an email than I ever did.

In fact, I’d gladly shut down my emails forever and rely only on the telephone – a complete and utter transformation. Let’s hope it lasts.

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