We spend hours tending it, check on it frantically at night, and even break off conversations when it makes a noise. But as email turns 40 years old, should we be learning to let go a little? John Hill finds out more about No Email Day.
WHEN I was a kid, I often wondered how Batman responded to the Batsignal so quickly. It’s all very well leaping straight across the rooftops if he’s leaning against the window waiting for a light in the sky, but what happens if he’s folding sheets in the basement or stuck on the phone?
Crime moves quickly on the dark streets of Gotham, so surely it’s unreasonable to expect him to keep his eyes peeled and hot-foot it across town in the time it takes for a bag to be snatched?
I sometimes think about Batman when I get calls from people chasing up emails.
There seems to be an unwritten code among folk that send emails that instant delivery means instant response. If it doesn’t come within hours, assume you’ve offended them. If it doesn’t come within a day, assume they’re stuck in an avalanche somewhere and call the police. We live in a world where a message from one person to another can be sent in a split second, whether they’re in Birmingham or the Bahamas. But if we spend our days herding this information into folders like laptop shepherds, when do we get our work done?
“There’s too many people that react like Pavlov’s Dog when an email comes in”, says Paul Lancaster, a PNE Group project manager and founder of digital marketing firm Plan Digital. “The speed of email is a great thing, but it’s also a bad thing as it makes people impatient for an immediate response. Managing your email can be a massive time suck.”
Lancaster struggled for several years with what he calls “the race to zero”; the struggle toward that corporate nirvana in which every email in your inbox has been deleted, filed or dealt with. He did it once just before Christmas last year, for the first time in 10 years. He did it again on April 13, but only for 45 minutes. It was then he sat down overnight and wrote a manifesto which effectively contained one clear message.
On November 11, for 24 hours, there would be a No Email Day.
“I was convinced a lot of people would feel the same way”, he says. “I’m proposing that people don’t even look at their email for 24 hours. Just get on with other work. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Go out for the day and have face-to-face meetings. Don’t put up an out of office message, because then you’re just sending another email.
“I’m not the first person to suggest this, but I’ve read statistics that say people spend 49 minutes a day on average managing their email and refresh 30 to 40 times an hour. I hear 262bn spam messages are sent in a day, and 89.1% of all emails are spam.