About fifteen years ago, I fine-tuned a way to handle my communications (read and reply to email) efficiently. Around me, I saw many people struggle with their email, getting swamped by the sheer numbers and time required to attend fully to their communications. Especially in cultures where email was used to cover your a** – or simply stall progress by letting email rest in your mailbox – full email boxes and slow responses were an indicator for me that things were not getting done and decisions were being delayed.
I established a way of handling my email, inspired by a few peers at London Business School: I would always respond to email within eight hours, or put it on my list of to-dos – and communicate that. Or I would delete the email right away.
Simple practice: three options, no sweat. It cost me relatively little time and the people I worked with, appreciated it a lot.
Along came email on smartphones, making it easier for me to respond even quicker: “This email was sent from an Iphone”. From the train, the toilet, the living room, or from the car (I admit). After midnight or first thing in the morning, before a swim or a run. I remember I also adapted to the SMS acceleration easily, but held of on WhatsApp and Skype messaging for a while. I even remember directing people from messaging via WhatsApp and Skype (back) to email. First signs of a struggle, I guess. I did not notice.
Technology offered me new options all the time and – unguarded by an IT department – I was loaded with these new options automatically. I didn’t even need to connect my iPhone to my computer anymore to synchronize (remember!) my calendar, contacts or music. I was just responding to messages more often and it was taking more time.
Slowly, I started to feel less satisfied on days in which it felt I was answering messages most of the time. I only realize that now. At the time, I was generally busy and in specific embracing social media like twitter and Linkedin. “Do you want to receive ‘push notifications?’” was a simple question asked. Just as I agreed with ‘terms and conditions’. It seemed to come with the package.
It didn’t stop there. Next-generation clients and colleagues got me active on digital platforms such as Yammer. The benefits were huge. We introduced this way of working to several clients, where these platforms became the heart of their online development program and I needed to practice what I preached – read: be active at least several times a day. My iPhone started coloring red more and more, with ’push notifications’ coming in from the left, right and center. App groups I had joined, from my Neighborhood, school and work, easily exploded. Especially with people (including myself) pressing the enter button after every sentence.
My break helps me to move from ‘push notifications’ to ‘pull communications’: putting me back in the driving seat. There is no need to follow everything and respond to all that is thrown at me. The ‘can-I-switch-it-off’ button is key to any useful app. If you have managed to read through this and detected nothing useful, please ‘defriend’, ‘unfollow’ or ‘remove the connection’.