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The Email Boycott

By Paul Johnson

679 words. Abstract: A company has taken steps to free themselves from the tyranny of email. Discover contrarious tips that will stop email from taking over your day… and night, and all your free time.

A company has revealed their low-tech approach to overcoming the tyranny of email.

An article titled "Kicking the email habit" in The Atlanta Journal Constitution on September 29, 2006 featured an interview with Scott Dockter, CEO of PDB Worldwide Fulfillment Services of Alpharetta Georgia.  He discovered his employees had become slaves to email.  Ironically, email caused them to stop communicating with each other, at least using traditional means like having a conversation in person or by telephone.  Not only was this behavior costing his company productivity, it was causing the workday to expand to where employees were sending emails at 10 at night.  He tried something new to regain some sanity, and it worked. 

The Boycott Begins
Dockter has chosen to make Fridays email-free throughout his company.  Employees are instructed to find other ways of communicating with each other, including — GASP — getting up and walking around.  He is quoted as saying, "We’d gotten to the point as an organization where everything was email. It was losing the personal touch."

It’s About U and I
Maybe it’s time we all boycott email, or at least step away from it occasionally.  As Stephen Covey notes in his famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, we become more productive when we don’t confuse the Urgent with the Important.  Covey encourages us to spend time on the Important, which may or may not be Urgent.  It’s all too common for the Urgent to merely seem Important, and waste a big chunk of our day.  Office workers routinely spend two hours a day on email.  How much of your email is Urgent but not really Important?

In the great book, Find It In 5 Seconds: Gaining Control In The Information Age, author Greg Vetter encourages us to commit to checking email only at specific times, such as first thing in the morning and right after lunch.  Each email is reviewed not to "handle it" right then, but to determine HOW to handle it; what is Urgent/Important, what is Important, and what does not deserve our attention.  By boycotting email for a few hours every morning and afternoon, you are assured of protecting some time for your own productive endeavors.  If you don’t, your day is one long series of interruptions.  That’s no way to get serious work done.

Like Fine Whine
Email technology was not designed to be an instant "real-time" communications mechanism (although it usually seems to work instantaneously).  That’s why my boycotts last longer, typically three days. 

I often let non-Urgent but Important emails age three to four days before responding to them, even if I can respond sooner.  I don’t want to train people to believe that email is for "right now" communications with me.  Instead, I encourage people to use the telephone; I’ll always answer right away if I can, and return messages at my first opportunity, often in just a few minutes.

My company can deliver great customer service (as our clients will attest) because our communications systems and policies are designed to avoid letting the Urgent AND Important issues that matter to our clients (and, by extension, our business) get lost among thousands of emails that really don’t need our immediate attention.  If you feel an incessant need to check your email so you don’t miss anything, it’s time to stop whining about the intrusiveness of email and rethink your system.

It’s Just a Boycott
I’m not advocating that you stop using email.  I’m giving you permission to protest its taking over your life.  Email is a great communications tool, but it’s not the only tool.  Don’t forget you have options, like the telephone, handwritten notes, and cubicle visits.  When you boycott email — if only for a few hours — you’ll reacquaint yourself with options that will let you clear your desk quicker and make you more effective in the process.

Join the email boycott, and you’ll see your own productivity rise while enjoying more of your evenings and weekends.  You’ll be trading tyranny for freedom, and there’s no need to protest that.

© 2006 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results educates, consults, and speaks on ways to achieve business breakthroughs using the Trouble Breaker™ Methodology. Check out more shortcuts at Call Paul direct in Atlanta, Georgia, USA at (770) 271-7719.

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