Please don’t kill e-mail

Kill meetings instead

“When meetings are the norm — the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem — they no longer work.”
— Jason Fried

A couple of days ago, I wrote about working remotely, attached to a co-located team in a faraway time zone. The biggest problem was meetings. Anything and everything would be discussed in meetings. If I spent hours carefully composing an e-mail outlining a problem, the possible solutions, and finally a recommended path forward, I’d get no responses. None. I eventually learned that everyone thought my e-mail was reading material for a meeting that I was now failing to call. Sigh. I, on the other hand, saw no need to call a meeting, since I had taken the time to present all the relevant information and no one had raised any questions.

Many meetings could be replaced with an e-mail thread. Someone starts out explaining the problem in some detail and lays out the decisions that need to be made. It may take time to write this e-mail, but it’s time extremely well spent.

  • You can skim through an e-mail to find things relevant to you. You can’t skim through a meeting.
  • If your attention drifts while reading an e-mail, you can come back to it later. If your attention drifts in a meeting and you ask someone to repeat something, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
  • If you’re unable to attend a meeting, the meeting will either be rescheduled or proceed without you. The minutes rarely include all the details of discussions, so you’ll have to ask others to recall the details. Maybe they’ll get it right. Maybe not. If you have critical insights that affect the outcome of the meeting, maybe you’ll need another meeting. Even more time wasted.
  • The e-mail thread serves as a perfect recollection of the entire discussion, including options considered and rejected, and the details of the agreements are recorded and can’t be forgotten or denied.
  • Some topics require careful consideration. When was the last time you took a 5 minute thinking break in the middle of a meeting? Probably never. Meetings are usually (thankfully) too short to warrant coffee breaks, so that’s not even an option. This imposes an upper bound on the quality of the decisions made in meetings. At least for me. Maybe you all make equally good decisions on the spot as when given a few minutes to think. I just don’t.

Slack used to be called an e-mail killer. Slack is wonderful, but please don’t let it kill e-mail. Kill meetings instead. E-mail is great for things that deserve time and care. Meetings are the opposite of that.