doctor's orders

Why I quit email—and you should, too

May 14, 2013
May 14, 2013

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Lucien Engelen here 

At our Radboud University Medical Center (RUMC), we send out some 750,000 e-mails, every month. Monthly, we send these from our approximately 18,000 email addresses. Conversely, on a monthly average of 1.2 million e-mails are being sent to us. (Numbers cleared for spam and based on 2013.)

If every mail from/to consisted of one sheet of paper, that would be seven pallets of 200 packages of printing paper every month—and that’s even only assuming emails without attachments.

Imagine that every incoming email read by ‘someone’ took 60 seconds: That would quickly add up to as much as 12-1/2 hours per month. Every month that’s about 8 FTEs, in other words 96 people per year, mind you: one minute a mail for one person! Imagine if we could use that time instead to spend with patients and their family.

This blog is not about “green” thinking—which I do support by the way—but about what we do to others when we press that “send” button. After all, we keep sending messages with the intention that “someone” do “something” with them; read, process, answer, store, forward, ignore or even print.

After attempting to make my work more focused in other ways, it turned out to a large extent that the 250 to 300 emails a day made this impossible.

An analysis of my incoming emails taught me that some 70 percent of the information sent to me could also be found on our intranet. It was also clear that email was increasingly used as a kind of chat, and sometimes invoked up to 10 other messages to 10 separate people. For that, I think, we have other more appropriate tools, such as our UMCN, Yammer or social media.

Rebel

I therefore decided to stop e-mail. Not just BCC’s or CC’s, but everything. Now, you might think: “one can’t just stop,” and that is generally true. But not for me; it fits with my affinity for being a bit of a rebel (with a cause).

So on April 2, I quit email (see also my post here on LinkedIn and be sure to read through the over 140 comments).

Thereafter, I handled only emails sent to me before that day, thus quickly decreasing the workload, and eventually stopping it altogether. The out-of-office assistant was set, and contained a reference to me quitting email as well as mentions of my Yammer, TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook accounts, and asked that everyone refer to my secretaries for appointments (by e-mail or Twitter @secretarylucien).

A number of people apparently thought that it might be an April fool’s joke, but ever since April 2, I no longer respond to new email messages.

I can firmly tell you that it already saves me a lot of time, approximately one-and-a-half to two hours per day. My colleagues are now surprised that I can find time to grab a cup of coffee, pick up the phone and respond swiftly to messages sent through other channels like social media.

Being where your targeted audience is.

Do not overlook the fact that communication channels are shifting. Facebook and Twitter now account for a good deal of the shift, but even internally at our University Hospital many communicate via Yammer. Being where your targeted audience is is becoming more important than ever. For my job in healthcare, this is truer than is has ever been before. There are many great tools that are better for stimulating collaboration and co-creation than email.

So please ask yourself with every mail you send tomorrow: is this email really necessary, or would it find a better home on another platform?

My next blog will be about the silly, awkward, unexpected, funny, and authentic feedback as well as questions one gets after stating that they are quitting email.

But for now I am curious to hear your thoughts. How much could you decrease the number of emails you send?

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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