Talk About Quality

Tom Harris

The Best Time is No Time

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Something that nags at me in the background is time-suckers. E-mail for example. A while back I made myself a list of rules for e-mail handling:

  1. Delete without reading
  2. Read and delete
  3. Read and file
  4. Read and reply

But it’s got some problems. First, it’s hard to keep to rules when my e-mail is always there, tempting me away from harder, though more productive, activities. Second, the hidden assumption is that e-mail is a satisfactory way to handle every task which is introduced in e-mail. (Wrong!)

I tried a little experiment, unplanned, on a day when I was off work. I told myself I would process my e-mail (so there wouldn’t be a mountain of it when I returned) but not reply to any of it. In other words, I would apply options ##1 – 3 above, but not #4.

I was off for 2 days, and during that same period, my local worksite was closed, so nobody local was sending me any e-mail. Still, when I logged on, I had almost 100 new e-mails! Some were automatically generated, and the rest originated at another worksite that was not closed. Most of the e-mails were simple text, but a few had attachments. Including reading those, I “processed” all but 5 e-mails, which seemed that they would merit a response or action upon my return to the office.

What’s interesting is that, on second look, none of the remaining e-mails really require a response. My replies might help the sender a bit, or suggest to them something that could help me slightly in the future, but nothing big. Probably my responses, if they are still helpful by the time I do return and respond, will only generate more e-mail.

Meanwhile, I just noticed that the only e-mail that actually requested something of me alone (that is, if I don’t do it, nobody will) was not among the 5, but was an additional e-mail left behind from the first of the two days’ e-mail I reviewed. And the best way to deal with it will be to visit someone in person to discuss it.

So what’s the best way to save time on e-mail? Use it less. Receive less, by tailoring subscriptions carefully. Send less, by e-mailing only to request or provide an answer that must be in writing.

I’ll try that.


Written by Tom Harris

April 10, 2009 at 1:20 am

Posted in Agile

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