Quitting email



Nothing causes despair quite like a 37 reply-long, group email thread. What if email were no longer a part of your professional life? Is it even possible to imagine?

I’m a big fan of Peter Drucker. He wasn’t an email lover. He said that 80% of collaboration can be solved with two questions:

  1. “What do I do that helps you?”
  2. “What do I do that hampers you?”

He also emphasized the importance of having a person’s name and a due date attached to every task. He famously said that you can only improve things that you measure. Email is horrible at all three of those things:

  1. Assigning responsibility
  2. Establishing a due date
  3. Measuring results

Thierry Breton isn’t an email fan either, “Email can be invasive, time-wasting and maddening.” Yep.

Ever thought of quitting email? You can. I’m doing it. Here’s my experience so far.

I work on a lot of different things each day. One day I’m touching artificial intelligence, regulatory frameworks, UI design and the composition of a main dish at a restaurant. The next day I’m working on completely different things.

In my job I have the privilege of collaborating with talented, motivated people. My relationship with them takes many forms based on the context. Normally I act like a second brain that they can use to do their jobs.

To do my supporting work effectively I need to understand the context in which they are working. What are their goals? What are their challenges? How are they progressing? Knowing these things is essential for helping and not hampering.

For years I did much of my work over email. Re-establishing context for each person each time we collaborated wasn’t easy. It limited the number of people and amount of work I could support.

About 6 years ago we began using the collaboration tool Basecamp to organize ourselves. It wasn’t that intuitive. A lot of projects started there then died for lack of updates.

With the launch of version 3 last year we’re using Basecamp much more. We keep it updated. It gives me easy access to context. I can use it on any device and quickly review goals, challenges, progress and total work load. Compared with email it’s a revolution.

This tool – combined with messaging tools like What’s app, Skype and Hangouts – makes it possible to finally quit email.

As of this writing I haven’t checked email in a few weeks. That’s about my normal gap now. Do I miss some things? Yep, I do. I missed a dinner invitation that I got too late to respond. I didn’t get a few notifications about my personal bank account.

I was worried I would miss more. I haven’t. In fact, I’m much more on top of the things that matter to me thanks to Basecamp 3.  I was losing track of ongoing projects because of information overload when I relied on email. Now all I miss is being up to date on a few things. So far its been a trade off worth making.

Of course, not all of my work involves close collaboration. I also have many professional relationships that are looser, more casual, as I’m sure you do, too. I meet new people every week. I haven’t been starting these relationships via email like I did in the past. I’m using methods like Skype, text and voice and video calls. For example, I met someone last week that I expect I’ll be collaborating with for years to come. We exchanged texts then had a call. Going forward we’ll stay in touch like that. When we kick off a project together we’ll be working in Basecamp.

That’s the beginning of the end of my story with email. I’ll update you as things evolve. But probably not via email.

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