Saturday, October 29, 2016

I Used to be Present to People But Now I Check Email

I was recently invited to give an Ignite talk as part of the Ignite Your Passions event held in conjunction with a Canadian Education Association conference. As presenters we were as asked use the theme of  “I used to ____________ But Now I __________ ”. 

I chose: I Used to Be Present to People But Now I Check Email

My presentation itself, part serious and part facetious, was a brief synopsis of my "hot and cold"/"off and on" relationship with email.

Personally, email hit mainstream as I was beginning my career in the mid 1990's and came with some exciting promises - it was going to save time, remove barriers to collaboration, streamline communications and improve work flow!

To some degree email has accomplished some of this. Today email can be a good "gateway tool" to access, sort and share information.

But there are some problems.....

The biggest issue with email is that it is being used as a  "one size fits all" communications tool.  Metaphorically speaking, email is seen as the "Swiss Army knife" of communications when, in fact, it should be seen as one part of the communications "knife".

Information Smog and the flooded inbox
We are living and working in an era of information smog and our flooded email inbox - often perpetuated by the misuse of email functions such as "Carbon Copy and Reply All" - is compounding the problem.

Has anyone ever tried to schedule a meeting using reply all?  Organizing a meeting with  four or five people with everyone replying all can easily generate 15 to 25 emails!

Too much emotion
Another concern is that email be can lead to harmful miscommunication and misrepresentation (cue the ALL CAPS message here). From my understanding, email was never intended to communicate sensitive and/or emotion filled messages.

More screen time and less people time
Another, more philosophical concern, is whether email has allowed for an unrealistic sense of time.  Put more simple, are we overly available?

I would suggest that the daily and even hourly expectation to clear our in boxes is drawing us more to our desks and screens and, by extension, contributed to what Charles Hummel coined, the  tyranny of the urgent.  The implications of this, from a leadership perspective are serious.  I worry, for example, that in our need to manage the day to day clearing our of inbox we are seeing an erosion of slow and thoughtful strategic thinking and diversions from what is core to who we are and what we do as educators.  On a personal level, my need to clear my inbox is taking me away from being present to those that matter most to me!

Today, before I send or respond to an email, I ask myself if there is a better way? Should I, for example, use a different tool or pick up the phone or have a face to face meeting over a cup of coffee?

Below is a copy of the slide deck I used for the presentation.

Still figuring it out....

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