mailbox

No Email Day

September 15, 2010

While on a quest to achieve the elusive Inbox 0, Evan recently took a liking to reading articles on how to improve productivity, the perils of constant emailing, and how to avoid bad email habits. While collecting all these articles didn’t do much in the way of cleaning Evan’s inbox, it did inspire him to propose an interesting experiment to the Stitch Media staff. Earlier this month, we attempted to assess and measure our productivity by participating in said experiment, otherwise known around these parts as “No Email Day”.

No Email Day restricted all Stitch staff members from reading, writing, and accessing their email accounts. The intention was to see how frequent (and almost obsessive) emailing was affecting our individual productivity as well as our ability to assess our priorities. During our weekly staff meeting we decided that a Thursday would be the least threatening day to conduct the experiment and laid out the ground rules for No Email Day:

No Email Day Rules

1. You cannot read your email, new or archived

2. You cannot contact someone via email

3. You can tell others about no email day and make other arrangements to communicate with outside parties throughout the day

4. Attempt to avoid instant messaging services such as msn or gmail chat with people not a part of the internal staff

5. You must activate an auto-response informing others that we are not receiving or replying to emails, that everything will be alright, and we return to normal the following day.

Throughout the week the staff took appropriate measures to prepare ourselves for what was beginning to feel like the apocalypse; for many of us checking email is our first action of the day, leading us to feel as if email is our golden gateway to the internet. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of our electronic sharing tools (i.e. shared documents, project management applications) are google apps which we access via our email home screen. Furthermore, what made the experiment particularly scary is that our staff is spread out across two cities; meaning that without email, we would be relying a lot more on telephones, voicemail, and skype. As panic settled in over this crazy experiment, we tweeted our intentions, alerted our various partners and collaborators, and began constructing phones out of tin cans and string.

During the 24 hours of inbox exile we took creative approaches to avoid logging in. Some staff members took the analog approach, attacking large piles of paper work that had been nagging at them for weeks, while others shuffled their schedule so that all meetings landed No Email Day thus spending their work hours out of the office and offline. I decided to learn a new skill, and took up video editing for the day to create a component piece for a presentation. While a one day experiment doesn’t collect enough data to really assess its effect on our productivity, the day offered a break from our regular routines allowing us to tackle the items on our to-do lists which have a tendency to lay dormant.

Lessons Learned

1. Each staff member uses email differently.

While email is certainly an important communication tool for all at Stitch Media, the type of communications we receive individually differs from staff member to staff member. While one staff member might use email to discuss directives, flesh out ideas, or set up meetings, other staff members may simply be using email as a means to transfer files and simple pieces of information. Therefore, understanding how your staff members use email is important when attempting to asses overall productivity.

2. Email has become an archiving tool

One of our largest challenges of the day was finding information, documents, or files that only lived inside an email thread. While we’re advocates for cloud computing, No Email Day certainly demonstrated how easy it can be to rely on your inbox as a storage and archiving tool. This of course can become problematic if your shared drives and documents aren’t updated – possibly leading to miscommunication between staff and hitches in productivity.

3. Email is not your to-do list

Email should not dictate our daily, or weekly to do lists. Rather we must learn to make the distinction between what is important (our priorities and tasks) versus what is urgent (directives in email), and develop strategies for tackling both to ensure our important tasks don’t fall by the wayside.

No Email Day taught us a lot about how we use email, and most importantly, how our use of email affects us. We were definitely shocked by some of our findings, and can’t help but wonder, who else is up to try our experiment?

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