I Killed Email in My Company and Instant Message is Next 😈

I did it — I cut that nasty, counter-productive, digital landfill from my internal work communications, and I’m slowly working on making it a client-facing policy. And I didn’t just stop at email — I reigned-in instant message, meetings, and my personal nemesis, the informal face to face (AKA, let me interrupt your workflow for something I deem more important).

It’s started internally with my freelance team, and I couldn’t be happier. Let’s be honest about what email is:

  • The proliferator of disorganized, unsynchronized communication strings about the same exact project
  • The hero of miscommunication
  • The champion of confusion
  • The instigator of misread emotions
  • The avoider of face-to-face interaction
  • The creator of stress and anxiety

And most important of all — the King of Context Switching. The killer of productivity. One of my favorite quotes about email from a BBC article

Email is a very selfish tool. People dump tasks into each other’s inboxes without thinking about whether they are being considerate. The result is that you become a slave to your inbox, checking your email first thing in the morning until you go to bed. — Clare Burge

Let’s take a look at this massively disorganized rat’s nest from a different view — a visual of what’s actually going on.

Work emails generally cover 6 common purposes and 5 common subjects. Common purposes include announcements, updates, feedback, task management, scheduling, and discussion. Common subjects include projects (internal and external), clients/customers/users, the company, employees, and operations. That produces over 30 different combinations the average employee can receive in a day.

Now consider the fact that, there is absolutely no universal protocol to email. It’s completely up to each sender’s personal discretion. And personal discretion could be their own work schedule, time zone, personal goals and timelines, insomnia, train-of-thought, last minute thought, too many glasses of wine (*raises hand*), vacation….you get the picture.

Let’s put a pin in “personal discretion” for just a second, and look at personal expectations. There is generally no universal expectation for when it’s acceptable or expected to reply to an email. An hour? Within a work day? Within 24 hours? Sure, some companies have defined this for their internal uses — but what about email communication with outside clients/customers/users, vendors, partners, etc. At best, most employees are likely juggling with 2 or 3 different email reply expectations.

So the variables we’ve covered in the average employees’ daily cluster-fuck box, I mean, inbox:

  • At least 30 different email combination types
  • Personal discretion of the sender
  • Personal expectations of the sender

And that’s not all of it.

According to a recent study, the average employee receives 121 emails each day, although around 50% of that is spam. Let’s take it down to a conservative 60 emails per day. With 32 different email combinations (read, varying contexts), a given day of an employee inbox looks something like this:

This is why we drink so much during employee happy hours.

No wonder email can consume up to 30% of the average employees’ work week. And this doesn’t even factor in scheduled meetings, IM chats, unscheduled face to face chats, phone calls, etc. (I’ll be taking those on at a later date). Not to mention, it takes up to 23 minutes to get back on task after a distraction at work. For those who live by their inbox, it’s a wonder they get anything done.

I now run everything out of Trello (no, this is not an ad, I’m not in collaboration with them, I’m just a die-hard fangirl who would attend a productivity conference (a ProCon! Like a list!) dressed like their fucking mascot if they asked me to)(I think productivity may be my kink? Would it be weird if I started addressing everyone at Trello as “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am”? I’ve learned a lot about myself in writing this post today). Trello is a project management tool that is collaborative, and allows meto organize projects by client. Communication takes place within Trello, on the relevant project tasks, and can be accessed by employees at the time they’re ready to turn their focus to that project, thereby greatly reducing context switching. Something that’s even addressed on Trello’s own blog, by someone who, if I do say so myself, addressed it masterfully. Even if she did have two glasses of wine while writing it.

So why is Instant Message next? It’s simply email lite. A notification pops up to distract you from whatever you’re doing, the implication often that it’s something that needs to be addressed quickly. It’s still someone infringing on your time, at their discretion.

But I understand that we need to take down one demon at a time. Luckily, I’ve made a Trello list for this.

Next up, exactly how I replaced email with Trello, so you can try it too.