On Ending the Tyranny of 24/7 Email

End the Tyranny of 24/7 Email

Why would less email mean better productivity? Because, as Ms. Deal found in her research, endless email is an enabler. It often masks terrible management practices.

When employees shoot out a fusillade of miniature questions via email, or “cc” every team member about each niggling little decision, it’s because they don’t feel confident to make a decision on their own. Often, Ms. Deal found, they’re worried about getting in trouble or downsized if they mess up.

When I am not at work, I do not check work email. I do not think about work email. I do not consider what could be going on in work email.

If it’s in email, it is inherently unimportant.

If something urgent were happening, I would receive a phone call. No phone call. No urgency.

In contrast, when employees are actually empowered, they make more judgment calls on their own. They also start using phone calls and face-to-face chats to resolve issues quickly, so they don’t metastasize into email threads the length of “War and Peace.”

See? Face-to-face meetings or phone calls are for important things. Email is for ass-covering and uncertainty.

These changes can’t happen through personal behavior: The policy needs to come from the top. (If your boss regularly emails you a high-priority question at 11 p.m., the real message is, “At our company, we do email at midnight.”)

This is another important point. The example is set from the top-down. If your manager and his manager and his manager all email all night long. That’s the message. I keep my work email habits to myself mostly because people are aghast when I tell them I don’t check it outside of work.

But when I ask them how often they’ve had something in email that absolutely could not wait until they were back in the office?

Very rarely do they have any examples. And the ones they do offer were accompanied by a phone call. This Labor Day let’s think about how we labor. We give all of our time to work in exchange for what?

More work. You won’t ever get ahead. The harder you work and the more time you pour into your work and email, the more you’re rewarded with more work to do.

Stand with me. Hold the line. Do not check work email outside of work.

1 Comment

  1. One interesting question is the concern for students emailing their teachers after school.

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