I had an interesting experience over the holiday break. I left my work computer and our new Macintosh at home. I knew I could check personal email via my mother's computer, and we were spending most of the time with the kids and family, where it wouldn't be terribly nice to be plunked in front of the computer anyway. I also turned off automatic work email to my phone. It's quite liberating.
Of course, I turned on the out-of-office message on the work email, but I tried something new along with the message. Through the Get-It-Done Guy podcast on Healthy Work/Life Balance, I heard about AwayFind.com, which is an extension of the out-of-office message. See below for more detail of how I used it.
Jared Goralnick is the founder of and advocate for AwayFind. The fun thing about Jared and AwayFind is the heavy advocacy of email freedom. He starts off with explicit discussion of using AwayFind to reduce dependence upon email. He follows that up with a sequence of five emails (!!), delivered over ten days. These all have to do with clearing the wreckage of email, advocating again the value behind this strategy. The first email points to his discovery story, The Postal Service got it right.
The basics behind his suggestions are familiar to me, and I have implemented pieces of them. Inspiration comes from Getting Things Done, Tim Ferris (The 4-Hour Work Week), and other places. The biggest inspiration is regaining freedom from the overuse of email and redirecting that into doing useful work. Some of the basics in my words:
- Clear out the inbox!
- Keep it clear by your favorite process for dealing with incoming materials and deciding whether, how and when to respond. (My old standby: Do, Delete, Delegate, Date Activate.)
- Turn off automatic email checking, either by shutting down your email program, or by setting it to "work offline." (In Outlook this is under File -> Work Offline.)
- Decide when to check email: maybe twice a day, ideally after you've taken some action in the morning (10 am), and before it gets too late in the evening (4 pm).
- Do one thing at a time! [This is my personal killer. It's so easy to get distracted by that other thing. This is one reason to kill email.]
- Don't send so much email, so your friends and colleagues get some relief.
- Get off those mailing lists, redirect them to web feeds, filter them.
- Don't fret if it starts to get out of control. Just jump back on the bandwagon.
- And one from Luis Suarez (hero of Giving up on Work E-mail): Start using the right tools for your varied communications, such as the phone, status, chat, blogs.
My next step? Turn off automatic email checking at work, and only process a couple times a day. (Expecting a withdrawal headache... and getting more work done.)
Here's a little more on AwayFind and how it works. Essentially, you link to AwayFind in the out-of-office message. Thusly:
Thank you for your email. I'm out of the office through 29th of December and do not plan to have regular email access. If your matter is urgent, please click here: http://awayfind.com/jackvinson (consider bookmarking this link as you may not receive this notification again)
I'll be back in the office on 29th December and will return your message around that date.
Rather than leaving my phone number in the auto-responder, this directs people to a form to fill out if they really want to get in touch with me. If they go through the effort of filling out the form, I get a text message and can call them back. If they don't want to fill out the form, then the matter can probably wait until I get back to the office. If they have my mobile number they'd probably call me directly. Or they could find me on any number of social networks.
Photo credit: "Information Overload" by DeaPeaJay.