I was watching Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts. He is advocating that the graduating students Make Good Art. He has six lessons* from his life that are useful to anybody in any walk of life.
However the thing that stayed with me was a story about how, after the huge success of his novel he found he was at his computer every day but he wasn’t writing. He was emailing. He said, he’d become a professional emailer. He said he spent hours and hours every day emailing. He said he’d run out of day to write, to make good art, because of the emailing. Once he realised,
he stopped emailing.
He could then write. He had time to write and to think about writing. He could go back to doing that thing that made his reputation in the first place. He could make something.
This resonated with me.
Like many people I get a ridiculous amount of email every day. I
read scan every email usually within one or two hours of receipt. My email is also my task list. Everyday I look at this list and try to make sense of it. I promise myself I’ll ‘get organised‘ and move email that I need to keep, just in case, into folders. I don’t. I don’t delete it either. It just sits there accumulating… For the email that I flag (mentally or virtually) I’ll respond to them doing the thing I need to do. I have tried rules, colour coding, filing, not filing, I’ve even read books on how to deal with email…
And that’s when I realised I’d become a Professional Emailer.
I have systems to process email.
I started to look through the emails that I send and the ones that I receive and they fall into roughly the following categories:
- Selling – I get lots of emails from lots of organisations telling me that there is something available
- Confirmations – I get many emails that confirm something has been done. This could relate to an active project and colleagues will copy me into emails to demonstrate they’ve completed their task. Online retailers confirm they have my order, that they’ve shipped my order and I’ve received my order
- Organisation – I get a number of emails relating to meetings: meeting invitations, meeting agendas, meeting minutes, itinerary to get to the meeting
- Requests – This is where I’m being asked to do something for someone else. This could be to complete a process, can you fill in this appraisal, can you complete your objectives, can you write this report
- Reminders – Linked to requests, these are the, increasingly repetitive, emails reminding you to do the thing you were asked to do. I try not to get too many of these as I hate being nagged.
- Information – I get a few emails with new information. Last week a colleague sent me a briefing on BlockChain. I sometimes get emails on new articles or links to information that are related to my interests
- Targeted – I get a tiny amount of email directed to me personally. The hello, how are you, type of email. These are a delight
These emails are disruptive and a distraction. They will undoubtedly impact on my productivity. They will not necessarily help build relationships. I can’t see that email will really help me lead.
They say that recognition is the first step. I recognise that I’m a professional emailer. I now need to work out how to stop.
*Neil Gaiman’s Six Lessons
- If you don’t know it’s impossible then you’ll do it
- If you know what you want to do then get on and do it
- Not everything you do, every project, is going to survive and that’s hard to deal with
- Make mistakes and use these mistakes to make good art
- Do the stuff that only you can do
- You get work however you get work
- Enjoy it