Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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Isn’t there something a little crazy about email? Sure, it can be useful, but admit it, it can also be annoying and distracting and a huge time drain.

How many times have you heard someone complain about coming back from holidays to find hundreds, or even thousands, of messages in their inbox? A friend working in the government told me about a woman who’d left one department to work in another, but returned to the first after a few years away. The first time she logged in to her computer, the whole departmental system crashed. Apparently her email account had not been deactivated during her absence.

For years I’ve been doing various contracts, most of which would leave me relatively independent from the organization I’d work for. I was, to a large extent, exempt from the office emails that fly around, cc’ing all and replying to all. With my last contract, I would receive many of these emails but could know with almost 100% certainty that they had nothing to do with me, so would simply delete them en masse.

But now I find myself in a job where I am being actively emailed – directly and indirectly – at a rate which I’m sure is insignificant compared to many, but which has still got me seriously thinking about how I am going to manage this.

Luckily I have a sympathetic manager who recognizes that reading and responding to email can easily encroach from professional into personnel lives. We agreed that since I'm only a part-time contractor, it is fitting that I set up boundaries around my email activity – meaning I will only read and reply to emails 3 days a week. This last weekend was the first time I implemented this new policy – and while it wasn’t easy to ignore my inbox filling up, it did mean I spent more time with my family and less time thinking about and doing work in the off hours.

This has also got me thinking about how we use email, both in our professional and personal lives, about this age of information overload and this culture of over-sharing the many details of our lives. Ironic that I’m blogging this.

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