Saturday, December 24, 2011

To my fellow Knowledge Workers or You suck at e-mail.

Are you a "knowledge worker"? I don't mean just my fellow brothers and sisters in IT. I mean do you work in a job where you sit at a computer and manipulate data, answer e-mails, do The Excel etc? Do you have an electronic leash that pushes e-mail to you on a 24x7 basis? E-mail is quite awesome because it really flattens out the communication landscape. However, this is also e-mail's down fall. We never get a break from work. All someone has to do is type a very short document and hit send and it's in your pocket in seconds. These e-mails are interruptions / a request for your time and attention. Whether you are aware of it or not, a work e-mail puts an open ended action item in your mind. I submit that we need to reassess our habits and adjust to avoid burn out.

For example, on Christmas Eve 2011 I received an e-mail from a co-worker that started "Merry Xmas, I don't mean to bother you." First the e-mailer acknowledged that it is a holiday, peachy I appreciate that. Second, the e-mailer stated they didn't mean to bother me. That statement is either naive or disingenuous, because the e-mail is a bother because it is a request for my attention. I either need to think through his problem and reply or make some other provision to make sure I remember to answer his e-mail on December 27, three days from the actual e-mail. Despite their statement to the contrary he was a bother.
Before you think I'm over reacting to a simple e-mail, think about it this way, would you accept a coworker coming over to your house on Christmas Eve / Day to ask you questions about work? I know I wouldn't, I'd be extremely bothered by it. E-mail has given people the power to send their stray thoughts to anyone at a moments notice. I submit these tiny and constant requests for our time and attention are a cause of stress in our daily lives.

How should e-mail be thought of? Before sending an email be sure to have plenty of substance to warrat the distraction. Two understand that it won't be returned right away if you aren't sending it during regular business hours, and maybe not even then. Consider the person you are sending email to might have several other people pulling them in various different directions. Put language in the e-mail releasing them of the burden of returning your email right away.

Here is what I am doing for the reminder of Christmas and for all future holidays.

1. I am turing off push e-mail to my phone.
2. I am setting my google voice number (ie work number) to DND
to avoid direct phone calls and text messages.
3. Setting an Out of Office Message explaining that their email has hit my inbox and will
be attended to when I get back from vacation / holiday.
4. I will check e-mail once or twice over long holiday's / vacations, IF I feel like it.

I've very seriously considered changing careers, many times, due to unnecessary interruptions during my personal time. I really don't want to change what a do for a living at this point, so all that is left is for me to set the proper expectation for when people I work with can have my time and attention. There is nothing you need that is more important than to me that warrants an  interruption  a dinner with my wife or  a laugh with my son. If you work within constraints simular to these, I challenge you to do the same during your personal time. You deserve downtime, you need time off to rest your mind. In the long run you will be a much better performer at work and you will be happier at home.

I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

-b
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