Can Someone Turn Off Email, Please?

(I’m not endorsing any product mentioned here today – purely my own views)

My usual Sunday morning routine is to get up nice and early, make myself a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal and then sit quietly at the dining room table surfing through my tweets on my iPhone.

This morning I saw a tweet by @DanTapscott who retweeted an article on the Read Write Website called “Why I’m Joining The Movement To Stop Answering Emails After Hours” and the article resonated with me.

I’m currently employed on a contract as an instructional designer for a cultural transformation and change program for a major corporate.  When I first got the role, it was described that I would need to use some ‘Rapid Instructional Design’ methodologies just to keep up with it all which was no biggie to me – but I quickly soon saw that this project was not rapid enough.  Instead, it was ‘Super Light & Time Warp Speed To the Point of Going Backwards in Time‘ type of project.

So if anyone knows of any ‘Super Light & Time Warp Speed to the Point of Going Backwards in Time’ instructional design and development methodologies, please let me know. I’m getting desperate.

I say ‘Going Back in Time’ because at times of extreme stress and project pressure, people revert back to what they know – back to the simpler days of facilitator-led training and the basic tools they know like Powerpoint and email.  However, they quickly see that in a project environment, where training may occur one week (or even one day) before the project goes ‘live’, many times you are working through the night just to be that small step ahead, this learning solution and the basic tools won’t cut it – or if they do, we will end up exhausted by the end of it.

Some examples I have come across are:

  • “Oh no! We don’t have time to skill people up in Captivate!” (or insert any other rapid authorware here)”
  • Can’t you just write something out in Word and give it to the learners as a job aid?”
  • “Podcast? Wouldn’t it be quicker to write a Facilitator Guide, Participant Workbook and create about 50 slides?”
  • “Just whack them all in a class, and teach them something”
  • “Frankly, I don’t really understand all this new technology e-learn stuff”
  • Just use Powerpoint!”
  • Adobe Presenter, what’s that – sounds too hard? It’s going to take a long time to get approval for this.  Just use the programs what you have on your PC”
  • “Just do something, anything”

And there’s many more.

So in a high pressured environment like this one, you’d wish that at least your email would stay in control so that you could spend more time on being productive – more time on what you are being paid to do.

One of the things I have noticed lately in my career is that my inbox is seriously out of control.

Despite adding filters, blocking spam emails and siphoning emails to relevant folders, one of the things I cannot control is the lack of email etiquette – by that I mean people understanding not to ‘Reply All’ to general information emails; not to respond to an email and write about a completely different subject other than what’s in the subject header; and emailing me useless information that is irrelevant to me.

Although we have Sharepoint that could be used to streamline our work, many people in our organisation simply don’t use it to its full functionality – as a result, you go back to email as being the preferred communication tool because you cannot change a ‘culture’ of email overnight so you revert back to email  – (the going back in time of what you know principle).  However, it causes more stress and is a hindrance in a project environment.

But Helen don’t you have remote access?” is a question I’m asked.  I do have remote access but I refuse to use it as this is not the answer to an exploding inbox.  Allowing remote access for people to view emails in their own time only compounds the problem and doesn’t address the real heart of it – the lack of business productivity.

My days usually go like this.

  • I wake up usually around 5:00- 5:30am.
  • My Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are in back-to-back meetings (now that’s another unproductive task).
  • I block out Mondays and Fridays to do my design and development work although these are always interrupted with more requests but I decline any irrelevant meetings on these days (only my business clients whose project is going live in the next week get first priority – others get rescheduled).
  • I spend the hours from 7am to 9am every weekday answering my emails at work and any in-between meetings time.
  • In the evenings after work and dinner, I sit at my PC at home and create podcasts and simulations (because the systems at work keep crashing on me).
  • End result:  I feel as if I’m “always on”, frazzled and…exhausted.

To see hundreds of emails waiting for you in an inbox only adds to that stress you already have.

So what do to?

It’s a tough question to answer because I feel as if I’m a mouse on the wheel madly scrambling to keep it running but not really moving.  But there is hope for the long term especially when there are project collaboration tools that can assist with keeping up with it all.

I had an opportunity to undertake a Master Class session with Bob Lee, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Citrix in late July in Melbourne.  He talked about Citrix acquisition of Podio, which is a project collaboration tool that allows teams to communicate with each other.  He talked about social learning – a topic I’m passionate about – and talked about how teams could collaborate and network with each other using this tool.  He gave us an account so that we could ‘muck’ about in it and see what it was about and last week, I went in and had a play.

So this is Podio.  On the left of the screen, there are your ‘Workspaces’.  You can create a workspace say, for your project.  Along the top there is a navigation bar that is your Home (where you see your activity stream); your email; your contact list; your calendar.  On the right, you can see your Frequently Used Applications; who happens to be online at the same moment as you; your task list and your calendar.  In effect, this is your ‘Dashboard To Your Projects”

I was loving this already.

When you click into your selected Workspace (for example, I created the Learning and Development Workspace above), you have a new navigation bar along the top which are the tools that you use to do your work.  There is your Activity; Your Assignments; you can create questionnaires and polls; you can add study notes and any other application you want to use. In this space, I could collaborate with fellow team members who are also part of this group.

What I particularly like about this tool is that you can have workspaces for the projects and teams that you are on, and all emails and information are DIRECTLY LINKED to that workspace.  This means that countless hours are not wasted trawling through emails and filtering them to relevant folders.  Everything is maintained within your dashboard – and makes good use of your time.

To use an analogy, sitting at our PC today is like being in a kitchen – where you have a whole heap of tools and kitchen accessories – all doing different things and used for different types of cooking and baking.  To add to the frustration, there are a vast array of cupboards and cabinets that hold all sorts of tools and equipment – but it’s all scattered around the place.  Sometimes you even forget where you have stored that particular tool and you spend your time opening and closing drawers and getting frustrated. I feel like I’m in a kitchen from hell when I work at my PC – so when nothing is integrated or around a task (like a project), it’s any wonder that I’m feeling frazzled.

So Podio gets rid of the frustration – you can delete the tools and apps you don’t use and create your own little workspace around your project to have everything you need at your fingertips.  I could see that if everyone in an organisation used some project collaboration software, emails would reduce, become simply as ‘general communication’ messages – and dare I say it – even become redundant?  I live in hope.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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