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Productivity

How I Gave up Email and Reclaimed 3 Hours a Day

Leave your e-mail inbox behind by moving your communication to collaborative tools and social media.


Most weekends you will find me speeding down a trail on my mountain bike. Bring on the drop offs: I want to jump them; bring on the hops and bounces and falls. I consider myself someone who can handle the things that life throws my way. But there is one thing that raises my anxiety levels into the red zone: email.

One day while driving home, I thought: “Why don’t I just stop using email altogether?” That night while drifting off to sleep I imagined my email-free life. I liked the picture. Within the same week, I made the decision to cut email out of my life.

1. Track your current productivity levels

In order to start this experiment, I needed to track the difference in my productivity levels with and without email. I started my no email journey by installing RescueTime, a tool that tracks your workday activities and calculates a productivity score for you. The system is fully customizable. It took me a few hours to input the online sites and tools that make up my working day. I also inputted all the sites and places that I would deem as distractions. From there I ranked each item on a distraction scale from -2 to +2. I worked in my normal way for one week so that I was able to benchmark, after I implemented changes. My productivity score at the end of the normal week with email was 23 percent.

2. Notify people

I started letting people know about my decision and thought it would be the easiest part of the process. It proved to be the hardest. I put a note on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to announce my decision. I put an auto-responder on my email which read as follows:

Subject: No More Email

Body: As many of you know, I am on a mission this year to reduce email with the aim of completely removing it out of my life.

My reason for wanting to do this:

  1. I believe it is a time waster.
  2. I believe it sucks people dry of valuable time that could be spent productively working on things they love.
  3. I believe that it is a duplication of all the systems we already use.
  4. It basically serves as a notification system to convey information we already know.

So, please do connect with me in the following places:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

Thanks for helping and if you feel so inclined, I would love for you to join me on this mission of simplifying my space and time.

Kindly,
Claire

The reaction to my decision was interesting: a few people even decided to join me. Others told me that I was mad. And still others had full-on debates with me via Facebook as to all the reasons why moving fromoffe email to other mediums made no sense whatsoever. The most interesting response came from my clients: they were genuinely relieved. My decision meant less email for them to deal with, no matter how small that daily number was in the larger pool of emails they were rummaging through. I felt encouraged. I knew I was on to something.
The most interesting response came from my clients: they were genuinely relieved.

3. Move clients to project management systems

After notifying my clients of my decision, I also explained to them that all work would be moving into a collaborative space. I set up accounts with Huddle, TeamworkPM, Basecamp and Asana. I would’ve preferred to only set up one tool but each of these platforms offers something unique that my respective clients needed. In order to not cause too much disruption, I decided I needed to meet the client where they were on tools they already used. The primary goal of these systems was to reduce the email deluge, and they did, because email notifications from the system can be controlled. I also trained my clients to classify their communications as follows:

  • Day to day discussions that do not need to be retained for future reference
  • Important information that needs to be referenced over and again by team members
  • Information that needs to to move to a task list because it requires specific action

Each of the project tools addresses these three types of communication very well. The message sections are suitable for day-to-day discussions. Important information that the team needs to refer back to over and over should always be documented in whiteboards and notebooks which are easily accessible, and any information that relates to tasks should always be managed in the task section of the project tools.

With the exception of one client based in South Africa, a country which still struggles with broadband speed, every single client made the transition with ease and all of them have subsequently implemented the same tools into their own businesses.

All the project tools allow for document sharing and Huddle also allows for online editing which means that documents do not need to be downloaded and uploaded all the time.

The Results: Benefits and a Changing Work Day   

The transition was far easier than I expected and what surprised me most was how relieved clients were to make the change with me. The greatest benefits that I have found include:

  • I have reclaimed on average three hours of every working day.
  • I am able to get home and switch off. I cook, exercise and read at night which I love doing and I do all these things guilt free.
  • I no longer start the day with email. Instead, I open the project tool belonging to the client who I will be giving my attention to for that day,
  • I no longer experience the compulsive need to empty out my inbox all the time.
  • I handle less than 10 emails per day.
  • At the end of every day, I write down my task list for the following day. After this, I open my email and clear it out using the file, action, delete principle. This never takes more than 20 minutes.
  • I no longer have to waste time searching for attachments and information within emails because it is all contained within the files and whiteboard or notebook sections of the project tools.
  • I no longer have file sharing problems because the files are accessible anytime, anywhere. With TeamworkPM, I also have Dropbox integrated which means that file sharing is even more simplified.
  • I no longer have lengthy team meetings via Skype or in person. I have educated my clients to start the week off with a Monday morning check-in where one strategic issue is discussed and all team members give a quick breakdown of what they will be doing for the coming week.
  • Meetings, when they do happen, are now happening in a collaborative space and I have noticed that people have become more accountable.
  • Managing overall performance is easier for me because with a very quick glance the entire team’s performance can be seen. This makes identifying bottlenecks much easier.
  • I no longer need to email and request progress reports from individual people. The system shows me where people need help due to slipping deadlines or where some employees do not have enough work.
  • Because full teams are collaborating in one space, I have found that cross pollination of ideas and understanding of different work streams has increased because people are exposed to what other team members are doing.
  • I no longer multitask as I did before. I open one project tool at a time and give that client my full attention before moving to the next.
  • People who work with me have a realistic time frame in mind when they can expect communication back from me because I have communicated to them what days of the week belong to them and their project.
  • My productivity score has gone from 23 percent when I was using email as my primary communication tool, to 68 percent over a period of 10 months.


Exceptions to My “No Email” Strategy

Some people are not fazed by an inbox with 16,000 emails in it so this type of project might be a bigger anxiety that your inbox. Also, for people who do not deal with large volumes of email, my system will also not be as applicable.

Of course my email accounts are still in use for verification purposes when I am signing up to online tools and software. I also receive receipts from online purchases via email and my website does have my email address for first time clients. Rather than cut it out completely, it would be fair to say that I have found a way to tame, reduce, and manage it – and I plan on continuing working this way for the foreseeable future. It’s been a very worthwhile journey.

How about you?

Is email volume and management an issue to you? What measures have you put in place to ease the pain?

More Posts by Claire Haidar

Claire Haidar is a productivity specialist who heads up the international company Get Organised in Ireland. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Comments (95)
  • Claire Burge

    Brilliant question and one I am really glad you asked.

    I start the process off by explaining to my clients that I do all my communication through the system and not via email. Most importantly I explain that I do this so that I focus fully on their project at any given time without distraction (they like this). I then explain that they can reply to me via email if I message them but if they want to start a new discussion they need to log on. I do not try to change their email habits at first. But my method of team/project management always sparks an interest.

    Quaranteed within a few weeks of using the system, they start seeing the benefits and without fail, every single one of my clients have requested that I help them to implement it into their business.

    This is going to sound crazy but I don’t reply to them if they don’t use the systems : ) and soon enough, they log on and start talking to me there.

    One of my clients have implemented a ‘no notifications rule’ across their business. It was a decision taken by the CEO. This forces the employees to log onto the project platform rather than email in the morning. It becomes their workspace/office and email is only used for external client enquiries.

    Let me know if that answers your question or if you have experienced another difficulty?

  • Claire Burge

    Hi Karsten. You are correct at a technical level. I did not define it out-rightly in this article but the general understanding of email is the electronic mail systems provided by the likes of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft etc. Social media and instant messaging is generally classified or seen as a different form of messaging.

  • Claire Burge

    Linda, it makes me very happy to hear that people, like yourself, pro-actively think about communication and how it happens. Too often we just accept the status quo without stepping back and asking: ‘wait, is this really working for me.’

    I am really happy if your system works. : )

    Here’s to continual revision of all our systems … I think that is the key to growth.

  • Jennifer

    Massively radical actions, Claire. And massively radical discussion taking place. Emails are essential to audience-building today — in a non-email future, how might we capture potentially loyal community for our websites?

  • komimis

    keeping facebook and similar sites for your work and work only makes sense.

    as far as personal usage is concerned, they are time wasters.

  • Claire Burge

    Jennifer so happy that you have asked this question. I was wondering if someone would weave it into the discussion. Email newsletters and I have a very interesting relationship. I advocate them because I know how beneficial they are to business in terms of concept testing, audience building, direct sales etc etc. But one the other hand, I know from the companies and people that I work with, that there is a very serious case of information fatigue. 90% of people subscribe to newsletters but they do not read them. They are the most obvious form of clutter in people’s mailboxes. When I ask clients: ‘Do you read this and actually do something with it afterwards?’, the answer is mostly no. That is a red flag to me: something is going to have to change for it to remain effective. Over the past few years, newsletter opening rates have been on the decline and superior content has buffered that decline in a way but as more and more people become design savvy and newsletters creators all start upping the content gain, that decline is going to increase. I do not have the answer and I am actively looking for it. But my gut is saying that ‘newsletters’ will also need to move into the cloud and take on a different form to balance time and resource spent on their creation versus their effective reach.

    Please do share your thinking. I would love to know how you see email newsletters evolving.

    As a stop gap measure, I teach clients to select 10 blogs/companies that they really want to follow and then to set aside specific reading time to actually engage properly with those companies on a weekly basis. Engagement means not only scan reading but actually implementing what they are learning from the information. Pocket is an app that saves information in a magazine format to be read at a later stage. I use it daily to save articles and then I have a 2 hour reading slot every week.

  • Rick

    I would love to give up email at work as it has become a disease. The problem I see though is that in my case, much of my work is not necessarily project based. We have some project work but many of the emails are asking for decisions, help or keeping me in the loop from the people within in my department. I am in the airline industry and a lot of the emails involve day to day operational problems so I’m not sure what would work.

    I have a folder system in Outlook but found myself spending hours filing emails at the end of every week or month. Anything to cut down on the parasitical little suckers would go a long way to improving my work life!!

  • braincutlery

    I think going ‘cold turkey’ on something you’ve identified as a drain on your productivity is admirable, but I can’t help but feel that you’re making this out to be a more “black and white” step than it really is.

    You’re still using electronic messaging across multiple collaboration tools, social networks etc and I suspect a number of messages that would have gone to your inbox go to these destinations instead, unchanged in content. Regardless of the tool, you’re still investing time and effort in processing these messages so what other change has made this more efficient?

    I’ve taken a more conventional route and set about cutting out inefficiencies in my email workflow – i have posted the results in my blog at http://wp.me/p2TvFY-50 . It’s not as radical, but it works for me.

    It sounds as though you have raised your productivity by radically challenging your existing workflow, which I admire greatly. Where I’m less convinced is that this qualifies as ‘giving up email’ in the sense I was expecting when I started reading the article.

    regards,

    BC

  • Halvord

    The problems with logging into Basecamp, etc. can be mitigated by using a password manager like Lastpass. These tools live in your browser. They can deduce how to fill in the name and password and log in for you. It’s just night and day. Highly recommended.

  • David McGuinness

    This is stupid. Why get rid of an open standard such as email and replace it with closed networks such as Facebook, Twitter etc. Email has been around for decades and will still be around even when Facebook, Twitter et al have fallen by the wayside. People who rely on these services solely for contact will find themselves losing contact with every online friend they have as they did not keep up with email.

    Email is an open standard. Use it. Don’t rely on social networks run by private companies to keep up with your contacts as they are not going to be around for ever.

  • Claire Burge

    Jennifer I replied at length to you 4 days ago but I see that my response is not showing. Apologies. I will reply again tomorrow.

  • Claire

    Google and Yahoo are two private companies who provide email accounts to very many people. How does your statement account for those?

  • Claire Burge

    Totally agree that this is a very good way to manage the plethora of passwords we all have nowadays.

  • Claire Burge

    Hi there,

    I have just read your article. Really enjoyed the infographic as I am a highly visual person.

    You are completely correct. This is definitely not a black and white issue. Articles on the web, because they are condensed and to the point, make things seem like they are but they aren’t.

    In my first draft of this article, I had a description, very similar to the one given in your article, how I manage tasks and messages within the project management tools that I now use instead of email. But that is another article. I had to focus on the core issue: my experiment. So, it got cut.

    The system you have described in your article is one that we regularly teach our clients when we do our Email Activation/Maximisation Module with them. I apply these same rules within the project management tools that I use. The system you have described is a critical one to master because as Rick and many others in this thread have said, some industries just do not have the capacity or systems in place to cut email.

  • Claire Burge

    Hi Rick,

    I can completely empathise with your situation. My husband is a senior manager in the airline industry. He processes on average 120 emails a day. It was his issue with email that first got me thinking about this whole matter, way before it became an issue in my own tech company.

    Their company and all the other companies he has worked for (all in the airline/aviation industry), rely heavily on email and can also not cut it out.

    I have worked with him and his company to implement systems to reduce their email volume which I will be very happy to share with you. I just want to ask a few questions to make sure we are on the same page:

    1. Apart from email, what other internal systems do you use?
    2. What email client do you and the other staff members use to manage emails? (Outlook, Windows live, Google Apps)
    3. Do you use folders and rules?

    Look forward to your response!

  • Claire Burge

    Jennifer, sorry again for the delay. Not sure why Disqus did not publish my last reply.

    Excellent question you have asked. I was hoping it would be raised.

    Audience building is the one reason I have held back for a while on speaking about this ‘no email’ mission of mine. I agree that email is an integral part of the audience building process and I do not have clear cut answers on this so I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in answer to your own question.

    At a high level I think:

    – Email newsletters will eventually fall away completely.

    – Magazine style readers such as Pocket, Flipboard etc will start moving to the fore more prominently because they are more visual than the likes of Google Reader.

    – Content will need to become accessible/viewer friendly for these types of platforms.

    – These platforms will need to develop their products to include audience building mechanisms to stay competitive and sustainable.

    -Audience building will be more about driving traffic and localization than capturing traffic and pushing content to it. Users are becoming less and less tolerant of the push mentality employed up until now.

    Let me know your thoughts. I really would like to discuss this further.

  • Me

    “How I Gave Up Email, Got Fired, and Reclaimed 12 Hours a Day” – Yay.

  • Claire Burge

    lol!

    a similar discussion ensued on facebook.

    we all concluded that getting fired and becoming a surfer on an island was a very good plan indeed 😉

  • RiC Raymond Inauen

    Hi Claire

    I was one of the lucky people to start using e-mail when it was first launched back in the early 90s globally. E-mail is great, but it has it’s drawbacks.

    Indifference is what’s taken over the world today, and this indifference is as a result of not having to engage in real conversation and exchange. It’s easier to hide behind an email or some other form of communication then taking the time to truly reach a constructive exchange the could improve the work and work flow.

    Isolation is another problem, we’ve become so preoccupied with surfing and mailing and other forms of cyber that we’ve become isolated to the real world out there. I mean how many people walk around with their smart phones on the street and have simply cut themselves off form the world around them. It’s a wonder they don’t get run over even more. We’re so taken in by these devices we can’t seem to live without them.

    Learning to set limits on how to work with these tools is important, the younger generation that’s been born with these devices are already so glued to this medium that in some instances I would say they are almost addicted to the daily does of SMS, mails, and other chat platforms. I don’t imagine them being able to focus on any real working problems for any length of time, without being distracted by their toys.

    You made a choice in focusing your time towards being more productive, something a lot more people out their could be doing. We could cut the overtime ours by half, simply by focusing more time on getting it right to start with. Bravo

  • Sean Blanda

    Well said, Raymond!

  • Leo

    Interesting article. I am currently investigating zero email projects within my own organisation. Your article expresses what you did and what the results are, however there is little clarity around ‘how’ social platforms improves an individuals business efficiency over email. This is something I have had a lot of trouble finding. Can you shed any insight into how and why you got this benefit?

  • Stacy

    wow! cool tips! thanks

  • Maarifa Roho

    I have to agree with Joel. It would seem that you replaced a hub (email) with four or five other ‘systems’ , which would seem to complicate things. As far as coming home and shutting down… How about just not looking at email until the morning? From my vantage point, my email life seems simpler, but best of luck with your system!

  • Claire

    You make such a valid point on people being indifferent to real exchange and conversation. Thank you.

  • Claire

    Maarifa, this point emerged in a few places on Facebook when the article first went live. Many people said they prefer to have their inboxes as ‘Grand Central Station’. I agree that this works very well for some people. I also know for most of the people that I work with, that this approach proves to be very distracting because of the constant inflow of information. Very few people have the discipline to not look at the newest email coming in until they have completed the task. So for people with very high levels of disciplines, I say what you have suggested can work. For those who click on each incoming mail, I suggest a segregated system to remain focused.

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