It occurred to me, after reading Luis Suarez's piece in the New York Times today, that I need to free myself from e-mail in much the same way that Neo was freed from the Matrix by Morpheus. E-mail is not only destroying my productivity, it's hampering my career development.Luis is a "social computing evangelist" for IBM who works out of the Canary Islands off Spain and reports to management in the United States and the Netherlands. Luis had an epiphany earlier this year when it occurred to him that his daily morning ritual of writing and responding to a seemingly endless number of e-mails was counterproductive. So what did he do? He notified his colleagues of his intention to use other collaboration tools, such as blogs, wikis, team intranets, and instant messaging. Luis claimed that he cut down his e-mail volume by 80% just by collaborating differently, and in the process, he started to actually speak with his colleagues more. Fess up: Have you ever e-mailed your colleague in the next cube? You probably could have stood up and verbally communicated with said colleague in 1/10th of the time that it took to draft an e-mail, but for some reason you chose to just write an e-mail. I've done it, and I hate myself for it. I used to talk to people. I used to develop relationships with my colleagues, customers, and managers. Now, I feel like I'm just an abstraction to many of my colleagues, just another "virtual voice," just another message in an in-box full of spam. About 13 years ago, when I was a hatchling in IT, I worked for a management consulting company whose primary method of corporate communication was voice mail. I recall how eloquent the various business leaders were in verbally communicating the state of the organization. Often, we would receive voice mails that were 5 minutes in length, and afterwards, I really felt like I was being spoken to personally. Today, e-mail is generally the preferred method for communicating with staff and colleagues. E-mail is impersonal and lacks the tone and inflection of the spoken word. Imagine for a moment how uplifting and engaging a Barack Obama speech would be if you had read it via e-mail as opposed to listening to it via the TV or radio. Do you think Barack Obama developed his ability to communicate by sitting behind a computer and e-mailing his colleagues all day? What about your CIO, CTO, COO, and CEO. Do you envy their ability to communicate, lead, and sell your product your service? I do.
And that brings me to a New Year's resolution that I plan on starting at open of business tomorrow. When people e-mail me, to the degree that I can, I'm going to start calling them back. I'm going to break the vicious e-mail chain that spreads like wildfire. I'm going to stop e-mailing people asking if they got my e-mail. I'm going to start communicating more in real time, through voice, video, and instant messaging. But most important, I'm going to get to know my colleagues and customers again. It's impossible to eliminate using e-mail entirely, but we can all use it more selectively, and only good can come from that. I'd invite you to respond to my blog by calling me on my cell phone, but that would be suicide.