January 23, 2013

I’m Not Scared of Email; I Developed a System called DADDIO

One of my favourite people on the planet is Luis Suarez. Not just an IBMer, a collaborator, an interlocutor or an inhabitant of Gran Canaria Island in Spain — how cool is that — he is one of the foremost outliers pushing our organizations towards a world without email.

And who would blame him?

email2No matter what statistic you read or research paper you (hopefully) digest – like this one – email traffic is growing and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. Luis argues “if there is something out there that it’s killing our very own productivity, it’s not email itself, but our abuse of it that’s killing such productivity.”

I believe him. My problem is not with Luis, his approach or his quest … it’s with the rest of the world. Judging from the current and forecasted state of email, I see no way for email to be completely eviscerated from our collaboration practices. In fact, I don’t think it’s going to go away at all.

We must adapt our attitude to email. We must change our habits.

So, with email firmly gripping our attention and actions, I thought I might share with you how I handle it on a daily basis.

Let’s first start with the definition of email. No, not the one from Wikipedia or PC Magazine, rather my own definition. I think email is any form of direct contact made to you that is done through web or internet enabled services. There are the classic examples such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! and your corporate email or ISP email as well. You may use Outlook or Lotus or whatever messaging system or application is provided to you to send and answer these types of emails. For example, I have three classic email addresses; a corporate account, a Gmail account and an account through this site.

But that’s not where electronic mail ends for me. I’m on Twitter, Skype, Google+ and Facebook. Each of these services offers ‘direct mail’ opportunities. This is still a 1-1 (or one to many) electronic mail instance you have to handle. LinkedIn is also on the list. These have to be considered as email types too.

Where I work, we also use micro-blogging and IM (instant messaging) applications. Isn’t this another form of email when people can contact me directly through 1-1 means? Of course it is.

And what about texts and voicemails? Sure, why not. When someone leaves me a voicemail, I have it transcribed into text and it’s sent to me via email. When it’s a text, it’s merely another form of electronic messaging.

emailAnd that’s really my point. Email has morphed into electronic messaging; we have to take into consideration all forms of messages that we are responsible to read and even answer. To look simply at the classic definition is naïve … and that’s why I don’t think it’s going away.

Now, about my system of managing all types of electronic messages; I call it DADDIO. I know what you’re thinking; why have I devised a pneumonic  mnemonic that paints me out to be some sort of caricature in a B-rated film? Fair enough. At least it’s something I can remember.

Before I detail each of the DADDIO categories, one thing I do that helps is I’m plugged in most of the time. Whereas 76% of people check their email accounts six times a day, I’m somewhat of an outlier. Whether through my mobile device, tablet or laptop(s), I equip myself to be scanning these electronic messages most of the day. Sure, I exercise without a device (although sometimes I’ll be plugged in when on a spinner) and I hang with the kids, Denise, friends without being rude. But if there are moments during a day – work or play – when I might address the messages in the queue, I do so. I have set times when at work to handle this as well, most notably from 7:30-8:00am and 4:30-5:00pm. The bottom line? I try to achieve inbox zero (in whatever inbox those messages gather) all the time.

And with that insight in mind, I employ DADDIO:

  • Delete
    • I am ruthless. After the quick scan, my gut reaction is to delete and for many of the electronic messages – particularly unsolicited ones – they end up in the bin.
  • Action
    • If it can be dealt with immediately, I’ll do it. Perhaps some of my responses are curt, but I’d rather be curt than let it sit there and collect digital dust. If it needs a more thorough response, see the next point. (Twitter only permits 140 characters, right?)
  • Delay
    • After the scan, if I can’t delete it and I can’t act on it immediately – and it needs my direct attention – I delay it to another point in time. It’s ideally the same day, but no promises.
  • Delegate
    • Maybe I can steer the request in another direction. Whether Google+, Twitter, traditional email, etc. if someone asks for me something and I don’t have the answer (or I don’t have the time) I will delegate down, across or up.
  • Interrupt
    • Twice a year, I interrupt my rules for a ‘life without electronic messages’. In particular, I check out from ‘work email’ and relax everything else to a trickle. I firmly believe that for 4-6 weeks a year my brain needs a break from this rigid regime.
  • Optimize
    • Wherever I can, rules are implemented and ways to consolidate messages are optimized. Keywords send certain messages to certain folders, local or on the cloud. (I then proactively delay action)

Electronic messages aren’t going away. If you have suggestions to improve my own DADDIO philosophy, I’d be keen to hear them in this space.

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