Escaping Email Hell: Part 1 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series

Don’t worry, when you’re dead there’s an upside: you can no longer receive email.

Earthlings now send 294 billion emails each day, some of which may in fact be necessary.

Sometimes I will see someone I emailed a week ago and tentatively ask a humble question, “Did you get my email?” They seem to physically melt in front of me as they bemoan the amount of emails they haven’t read, making vows of faithfulness to go and find the email and reply, as if promising to climb the highest peak and slay the most dangerous dragon.

So many of us walk around with the shame of unopened emails on our shoulders.

Don’t worry, when you’re dead there’s an upside: you can no longer receive email.

Others are abandoning the email system entirely, telling people: “I don’t read email, just call me.” Some executives never even look at their email, preferring that an assistant manage it 100%. Others can’t be reached by email for weeks, but if you contact them on social media they respond in five minutes.

Most of us feel that email is a problem in our lives, a Chinese-water-torture style hell where the messages drip, drip, drip into our inbox with a relentless tenacity.

So, how do we escape email hell everyone hates?

Two ways:

1) First, we must admit that managing email is a crucial skill. Those without the skills to read, sort, reply, and administrate their email become overwhelmed. This is true of freshmen in college as much as it is true for a tenured professor. It is true for the administrative assistant and the CEO. It is just as true for a stay-at-home parent as it is for a business owner—and if you don’t agree then you haven’t been on a Reply-to-All soccer mom email chain! This is why there are thousands of writings on managing your email. There are tips and tricks and methods to getting things done. Read them. Use them. You’ll be drowning by your first paycheck if you don’t.

2) But secondly, we must admit that managing email is not enough. You can execute the Getting Things Done philosophy like a pro. You can implement apps and invest in better software; you can read email morning, noon, and night. You can dial in the right notifications and use 50 different color codes to organize—and you will still likely find email to be a significant challenge. Why? Because most of us are working in a broken email culture. Unless we change our email culture even the best of us will not be satisfied. If things don’t change we will all continue working for email, instead of email working for us.

This is why I’m encouraged by a blog post by new IWU President David Wright. He said: “Email has become one of the greatest blessings of our working lives. It is also one of the greatest thieves of healthy work-life balance.” He writes a bit on the value of Sabbath, and then notes a few new ways he and his leadership team are using email in his environment.

I like this approach. Instead of carelessly saying: “manage email better” I see him saying: “let’s all use email more responsibly.” It encourages me to think through our culture of email, and how we might change it. It reminds me of one of my colleagues who once mused: “Your procrastination is not my emergency.”

I have been collecting a bunch of ideas on changing email culture for the last few years in a file. I’ve typed up lists and brainstormed with others, people like Jo Anne Lyon, Russ Gunsalus, Dennis Jackson, Judy Huffman, and sevearal of my family members.

What follows are several more installations in a series I’m calling “Changing Email Culture” and I’m writing it because managing your email better is not enough. I hope you come back and embrace it in your culture.

The “Changing Email Culture” series by David Drury

Escaping Email Hell: Part 1 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series
7 Deadly Sins of Email: Part 2 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series
Email Expectations: Part 3 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming soon)
Email Self-Examination: Part 4 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming soon)
Email Shortcuts: Part 5 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming soon)
Email Alternatives: Part 6 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming soon)



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