Email Smackdown

March 21, 2010

Little known fact: our human evolution has stayed roughly the same for the last 150,000 years. Your typical desktop computer changes every few months. Compared to our human reaction time, that old PC in your home office reacts 750,000,000 times faster than you. Yet we still try to increase the speed with which we respond.

It used to be we just wanted to keep up with the Joneses. Now we’re trying to keep up with our gadgets!

To master my email flow, for instance, I’ve taken the challenge. In fact, I have had a modicum of success. This week I’ve spanked my inbox into one monitor length. And it’s going to stay that way if it kills me. And it might.

Despite a grueling travel schedule that took me from Bethesda, Maryland to Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been able to manage my email influx. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I met with a lot of people in person with whom I normally correspond via email on a daily basis. Or perhaps it is because I have not been accessing my email as readily as I usually do.

Email is like a virus. It just keeps spreading. The more you write them, the more you receive them, or so it seems. While I am psyched to hear from that reporter or this one, I am not so enthralled with the spam, baby item giveaways that can only be sent within the lower forty-eight (I live in Germany) or other PR outreach that means I have to stop what I’m doing to pay attention to something else that most often serves only as a distraction.

Our hyperconnection is a blessing and a curse. It’s all about the filters you’ve put in place.

1. Designate times for information gathering. You don’t need to check your email every five minutes.

2. Use your tools. Autoreply is an often underutilized function that helps manage people’s expectations while you liberate your sfocus for what’s truly important.

3. Stop apologizing. If we think responding within 24 hours is unreasonable and we tag each email with an “I’m sorry for the delay!”, we’re teaching people how to treat us. Read: we allow them free license to expect anything sooner.

The truth is email is an information delivery system, like anything else. Just because it is instantaneous doesn’t mean we have to be.

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When E-mail kills…

October 7, 2009

My dear friend Guy sent me a link to a story on InternetNews the other day. It addressed the spate of suicides and suicide attempts at France Telecom (a key brand of Orange) in the last year (22 with 13 attempts).  The CFO of the company, Gervais Pellissier, admitted that 24/7 connectivity, thanks to contemporary hand-held devices, has increased employee stress levels exponentially. The very telecommunications industry that spawned our hyperconnectivity is the very one to meet its own demise.

“When you were an average employee in a big corporation 15 years ago, you had no mobile phone or no PC at home. When you were back home, work was out,” he said.

orangeWork was out. Done. Finished. And now people are finishing themselves off as they realize twenty-four hours a day is not enough. Somewhere along the line, people forgot that every business is comprised of people, not just machines.

I claim we have an abundance of time, but we need the heads of corporations, such as France Telecom, to realize there is also a limit to our availability. Just because I have 24 hours a day doesn’t mean the company owns it all.

Ironically, France has the most vacation days in the world. Yet people are ill-equipped to handle the expectations our 24/7 world has placed upon them. We need to return to a state of civility and normalcy in which our time-off is our own.

Just because we can answer the phone at midnight doesn’t mean we have to. I plead for more sanity in our workplace.

Enough is enough.