Monday, August 25, 2008

A Connectivity Holiday

From August 8 to August 22, I took a two week vacation and a connectivity holiday. What did that mean?

From August 8 to 12, I was on the John Muir trail, 50 miles from the nearest cell tower and had no ability to connect to email, the web, voice etc. I left all my devices in the car.

When I returned to Tuolumne Meadows, I turned on my Blackberry, downloaded over 1000 messages, and used a variation of my email triage criteria.

If the email was a CC or FYI, I quickly read it and deleted it without responding.

If the email was about a product or from a vendor, I deleted it without reading it. Post vacation, I'll have plenty of time to review products.

If the email was from my staff asking me to help with a project or budget issue, I responded.

If the email was from a customer containing a question or complaint, I responded.

Each day from August 13-22, I used this same technique. The end result was that I sent about 10 emails per day. I did no phone calls.

When I reconnected to a network on August 22, I simply highlighted the thousands of email in my inbox and pressed delete.

It was liberating.

I know that I left hundreds of vendor questions unanswered. I also know that I read all email via my Blackberry that contained FYIs and that I responded to every customer/staff need. Over the next few weeks, I'm sure I'll receive many resends from folks who wanted a response while I was on vacation, but it will be much less than the 1000's I received during that time.

My ability to send 10 emails a day and keep the peace while on vacation raises the issue - have we created an email culture that is so overwhelming that we need to spend hours a day just answering email? Maybe a bulk delete - the equivalent of declaring email bankruptcy - is something I should try episodically as a way of cleaning the slate.

If there are issues that have not been resolved or there are areas where I need to intervene, I'll receive another email asking for help.

My experience over the two weeks of my vacation taught me that we are often too quick to send an email, escalate a problem, or delegate simple issues. In the days before email, we may have been more productive just because instant communication was not available and we just worked out problems on our own.

I want to thank all my staff at BIDMC, HMS, MA-Share, NEHEN, and HITSP for supporting my time away. The fact that I could delete thousands of email without a consequence is a tribute to their ability to resolve complex issues independently.

My connectivity holiday also included complete separation from news, RSS feeds, and my blog.

All that keyboard time was replaced with family time and the joy of not knowing what time or day it was.

When I returned, I asked others for a summary of the news of the past two weeks. Basically, the Olympics occurred, the Democratic National Convention geared up, and Clark Rockefeller was found to be a con man.

I always learn a great deal from vacations - alpine climbing skills, time with family, and a focus on the basics of eating, sleeping, and avoiding sunburn. This year I learned that an email and connectivity holiday is possible.

If I did not respond to your email, send it again if the issue is still important. Otherwise, relish the digital silence!

I'm rejuvenated and have many new ideas for projects, blog entries, and cool technologies. The aura of my vacation will last for a few more weeks and I look forward to challenges of the Fall season ahead.


Stu Parker said...

Wow. Is all I can say. I know when I am away on vacation (Took one this past July in Florida.) I was like you....I got to my destination called my parents and said I'm here I'll talk to you in a week. And then distanced myself from electronic device except my IPOD for when I was sitting by the pool. Its good to just unplug from technology and actually have to talk to people face to face.

AK said...

Tim Ferriss came to a similar conclusion post vacation and ended up writing a productivity book about it, The 4-hour Workweek. His insights have changed the email practices of many organizations, small to big.

Considering what a time-suck email can be, your personal discovery could help employees save a lot of time in their daily routines.

Mark Turuk said...

As a former (as of Friday!) technology rep, I sympathize with the amount of email and voice traffic that you have to deal with from Vendors.

(You were never in my patch, FWIW.)

In most cases, bus dev reps have minimum weekly 'touch' quotas to fill, while more 'sophisticated' account reps have sales pipelines to deal with; the hope being that they are less intrusive and more value-add. Of course, that's entirely theoretical at times and depends on who you're dealing with. :-\

Both sets of individuals unfortunately contribute a huge amount of unsolicited contact, and there is no real answer to the problem other than dead-end email and voice-mail boxes.

That being said, it's a fine line between Vendor Management and Vendor Abuse.

Ah well, off to find the next gig! ;-) Ciao.

Unknown said...

This is great!!! I recently went out of the country and left it all at home (laptop, cell, PDA). It truly was liberating. I recently put my outlook email on a 5 minute send delay. I found that I went back and checked several emails and evaluated if I really need to send it. I have reduced my outgoing email drasticaly.

bcoyle said...

Reading this entry, leads me to believe I don't send you nearly enough email! You’re fortunate to have an open minded staff that is willing to consult numerous sources on important decisions. Glad you had a great vacation and returned safely.

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