What Happened When I Gave Up Email

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Claire Haidar is on a mission to kill email. In 2012 she undertook an experiment to eradicate email from her business entirely. The experiment caught the attention of the world’s media and she has been featured in Time, Lifehack.org,  Fastcompany, and Wired among others.

She is currently working closely with a number of technology start ups to solve this problem and to make the workplace a happier one. Thats what shes doing now, but how did it all start?

Why did you decide to get rid of email?

I remember the day my husband and I came home after a week’s holiday to find more than 9,000 emails in his inbox. I said: “Something has to change. Chasing an inbox all day doesn’t work,” and in a moment of madness, I decided to leave it behind. I was just so unhappy inside of my inbox.

You either have to continue to check your email on holiday or face a huge backlog once you get home. When I started out to become an entrepreneur, I didn’t think my day would be spent chasing an inbox. It was completely consuming my life.

How did you adjust? How do you work without email?

At the time, I was managing 300 to 400 emails a day, but I moved my clients and team on to a project management system and set up an autoresponder explaining how people could contact me differently. The net result after a year was that I basically cut back three hours a day, and my mission now is to get people to really think about how they function.

Your best brain power is from when you wake up till 11 am, so by starting your day with email, you’re using your best brain power on the lowest task. You should decide the day before what your priority task is and by the time 11 am rolls around, you’ll have already had such a productive day because you’ve got the hardest work out of the way. Then, check your email.

So you still use email? What kind of change have you experienced since switching over?

I now use email for external communication or for short-term projects, but I only get about 10 emails a day and just check my inbox at 12 and 5 pm before I leave the office. And I have no guilt about switching off.

Living without email for a year uncovered one of my biggest passions, but also taught me that I enjoy swimming upstream. An article documenting the project has gone viral, and if you read the comments, people either loved what I did or say: “She’s mad.” But I love giving a different perspective.

So what does this no email system look like?

I work with my clients to categorise messages into one of three sections:

  • Day-to-day discussions that do not need to be retained
  • Important information that needs to be referenced over and over again
  • Information that requires specific action

I put an auto-response on my email account to explain the situation and asked people to contact me through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. People were totally split down the middle, some were saying ‘Yes, go for it!’ and others couldn’t believe it. Then there were those who were almost insulted by my decision. A lot of people got really angry at me over it.

It really intrigued me and I realised it was a problem other people are also dealing with. It’s the silent problem everyone is affected by but nobody wants to talk about.

What’s happened since you removed email from your workflow?

My productivity has increased from 23% to 68% (Editors note: probably measured using Rescuetime!) and I’ve reclaimed around three hours a day, and it’s easier to switch off now when I get home and I’m not constantly checking her email to see if something has come in.

Companies have started approaching us asking if I can do the same thing for them and get them away from email and onto a more task orientated path. Now it’s a whole other revenue stream for us.

My workday is no longer dictated by email. Instead, I open the project tool belonging to the client who I will be giving my attention to for that day. And at the end of every day, I write down my task list for the following day.

For our readers who want to try this no email lifestyle, what are some concrete steps they could take to take back control of their workdays?

  • Create a pure work zone in the day. It’s a meeting-free and email-free zone. It could run from 9.30am until 11 am every day. When concentrating on work, everyone is centred around action and not people. It’s a very big mind-shift to make. A healthy manager won’t be averse to that – communicate why you’re doing this.
  • People still leave their email open all day. It’s just a distraction. They should have specific times when they check their email.
  • When you do check your email, action it. People are checking their emails in bed at night and when they get up in the morning. Take stuff out of your inbox and write the list elsewhere.

And finally, what will you be speaking about at the 3XE Digital Content & Social Media Marketing Conference on the 19th of May in Croke Park?

I’ll be sharing my No Email story and how it ties into my social media and digital marketing campaigns.

I’ll be speaking alongside some really inspiring people from the industry and it’s going to be a great day for digital professionals to come together and learn from each other.

 

Claire Haidar is best known for radical ideas on cloud technologies, the future of email, optimal working environments and how systems impact human behaviour.  Find out more at clairehaidar.com.