The Perennial Pruning of Emails


I’ll start this post off with a (non) scientific fact:- We almost all dread the incessant stream of Emails coming through. 24 hours a day, non-stop.

I have always been a big fan of keeping on top of Emails. I use my Email inbox as my ‘to do’ list. If it is in my inbox, it needs dealing with in some way. As soon as it is dealt with, it gets filed away which means it is no longer something for me to worry about.

I was away from work recently for four working days (most of which were spent on an MBA residential school). I prepared my inbox as best I could by filing away anything not needed and had it down to about 85. This was a pretty good place to start from as I generally aim to keep my Email inbox at under 100.

I call this the ‘perennial pruning of my Email inbox’ and realise that this has become my new norm of working.

As the Emails kept coming while I was off, I was able to keep on top of them for the first day. By the second day I was losing control due to the volume of Emails coming in. By the third day I had given up trying to control them.

In case you are thinking there are other things I could try, let me run through just a few things I have tried:

  • I have set up loads of rules to automatically file away the not-so-important Emails so that they don’t clog up my inbox;
  • I have turned off my automatic Email notifications;
  • I even try keeping my inbox closed at different points of the working day, in a vain attempt to be more productive;
  • I only check Emails at certain points of the day.

So how come I still feel that Emails are ruling me, rather than the other way around?

I have come to realise that I have it all wrong. The process of keeping my Emails under 100 was completely beside the point. I need to tackle the source i.e. the senders of the Emails. (NB: After reviewing my inbox I realise that many of Emails were originally sent by me! Oh no!! I can hardly blame everyone else for this problem……)

So, starting from now I will be carefully considering each and every Email that I send. I will still send some Emails, but I want to make sure they have a clear purpose, that I am not asking for an unnecessary response and that I always consider whether a good old fashioned face-to-face (or telephone) conversation would work just as well.

Will I be more productive? Will I send less Emails? Will I receive less Emails? (so many questions…..)

Follow my posts for progress updates!!

Digital · Email · housing · tech

Are you on a Digital Journey?


Last week I spoke at the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru’s Housing Conference in Cardiff with Nick Atkin, Group CEO of Halton Housing on the subject of ‘The Future of Housing Technology’. This is a great subject to cover, not least because there is so much more we could be doing as a sector to catch up and embrace the future.

What were the key messages?

During our session, the main messages included:

  1. Digital is here, whether we are part of it or not: Generation Z are connected from birth. To gen Z customers and staff, being connected is a part of life, much like breathing. It is not an optional extra.genZ
  2. Going digital can save an organisation money in the long-term: Organisation’s like Nick’s have shown that moving tenants onto digital platforms saves organisation’s money. Fact.
  3. Tech is cheap and everywhere: I have blogged about it before, but the ultra cheap and better than its price £30 UbiSlate tablet represents so much. I called it a game changer in my blog post for a reason.
  4. The mobile device is key: We talked in our session about people always being on their mobile devices. You only need to walk down a busy street to see how many heads are down looking at their phones while walking (this guardian article calls them smartphone zombies). Scary, but true.

What about NWH?

My North Wales Housing CEO Paul Diggory was sat in the audience during the session and reflected that it was nice to see all our digital accomplishments in one place, including:

  • One-page Digital First Strategy;
  • Reviewed, renamed and relaunched My NWH (tenants portal);
  • Digital annual reviews for the past two years;
  • Recently launched Email Charter.

What I find amazing is that, despite the above, I feel we have only really scratched the surface of what we could do digitally. But at least we are on our digital journey. For the leading digital organisation in the Housing sector, look no further than Nick’s organisation, Halton Housing. They came number 1 in the Visceral Connected Housing Study 2015 (again) for a reason.

Final thoughts……

The Q&A session at the end of a session is always interesting. One question which really struck a chord, was whether as a sector, Housing looks far enough into the future at what the next digital/technological developments will be. The short answer is, definitely not.

Bear in mind that as a sector we are still generally getting to grips with everyone being connected, the networked individual and the 24/7 offer, we are not even close to fully future gazing about what is possible.

Another key point is that there is a lot of interest in the sector around digital and technology. The conference session was packed out and attendee’s seemed genuinely interested and engaged in what we were saying. So much so that a few conversations around digital technology in the Housing sector continued on much after the session finished. We need to harness this interest for the good of the sector, share our successes and failures, and continue the debate.

So to the real question: Is your organisation on a digital journey yet? If not, you might just get left behind……..

For more details on the above points and move, copies of our conference session Prezi’s are embedded below:

And here’s Nick’s:


The War Against Email


I don’t know about you, but I really do hate Email.

Somehow, despite it being a tool designed to help, it has become a tool of oppression. It’s a continuous cycle of new Emails coming in, some needing a reply, some not. It often doesn’t matter if you are sending any out or not – there will always be a continuous trickle of new Emails coming in.

I have experimented in this area.

What would happen if I didn’t send an Email at all in a working day? When I tried this, I still received Emails. Granted, I have come to realise that a good portion of my Email inbox was originally generated by me – if I send an Email out with a question, it’s highly likely I will get an Email reply, but I still received a veritable ton of Emails, regardless of my actions.

I also tried checking my Emails at certain points of the day and in the Email reply automatically sent out, I explained the times I would be checking. But it didn’t work. I had a few dismissive ‘that would be nice to be able to do that’ comments from some people and ultimately, the deluge of Emails didn’t slow down at all.

I would also throw into the mix that an organisations culture or ‘Email dependency’ is a key factor. Some orgs/staff predominantly use Email as the preferred method of communication, which will in turn lead to an increase in Emails. Some time ago I conducted a wholly unscientific test of my Emails over a week long period and found over 2/3rds received and sent out were internal traffic. I may wish to change my ways, but I would argue the organisation as a whole need to sign up to this approach as well.


I have taken some steps to try and reduce the Email stress though. Namely:

  1. Not checking my Emails constantly;
  2. Only sending out an Email if I have to (rather than say talking to someone over the phone or face-to-face);
  3. Turning off the automatic Email notifications;
  4. Having an Email purge at least once a week where I delete any unnecessary Emails or file away any I need to keep;
  5. Trying to keep my Email inbox as ‘actionable’ Emails – things I need to do something with;
  6. Deleting or filing away any ‘old’ Emails – if I haven’t had to do anything with them after several months, it’s unlikely I will need to anytime soon either.

Some of these are just common sense, but you would be surprised how few people follow them.

It’s far from a cast iron answer to dealing with Emails, but I do find the above actions help.

My main aim though is to keep my Email inbox down to around 100 Emails. This is very tough to achieve. I had a few weeks off recently and found that this has crept up to over 250, but I am working on reducing this down. For me, keeping my Email inbox in check helps me to stay focused and in control of my work.

So, what about you? Have you any tips and tricks for reducing Emails at work?


No Email at Work – What Would You Do?

ImageRecently at work we were without Email for over 24 hours. In fact, we weren’t able to access our networks at all during this time, including our phone system (which of course is networked).

It was certainly a good test for our business continuity plans (now I know what they are for!).

But, in a lot of ways the more interesting test was to see how staff adapted. Inevitably there were some staff that grouped together to ‘chat’ and if asked, I’m sure they would have said they were talking about work. But if they didn’t have any paperwork to do or any work related conversation to have with colleagues, what exactly could they be expected to do?

ImageThis is often a quoted downside to being so IT connected. If something like Email or even the phones go down, then everything pretty much comes to a standstill.

In fairness, our business continuity plans worked pretty well. The main switchboard numbers were still open (transferred to our satellite office).  We’re yet to receive feedback from our customers on whether this caused them any problems in getting in touch with us. We’re also looking to review what happened to see if there are any lessons learned for us as an organisation.

But what would you do if that happened to you at work? For me, I kept on reaching for the keyboard and mouse, as this felt very natural. Also, being someone who tries not to use Email (see my earlier post on Email), this shouldn’t have been such a problem. And yet it was. Thankfully I was still able to use Twitter, so I felt at least some ways connected to the outside world. Mobile phones were also still working during the downtime. I also had the use of my works iPad, so could do some research on the internet. But the arguably traditional way of contacting staff, through Email, was out of bounds. The age old ‘send out a group Email’ to let everyone know what was happening was just not possible!

It did give me (like other staff) the chance to catch up on some paperwork and reports that I had just been putting off. And therein lies one of the problems. I could have done this all along really. Why did it take the network going down for over 24 hours for me to do this?

I’m almost tempted to say it’s worth switching your servers off at work for 24 hours to see what happens. You might just learn a thing or two.


Charles Dickens, the hamster wheel and the Email drain


For me, Email has become a real problem around expectation. People expect a quick of even instant reply to an Email, even though they have no idea how busy the person at the other end is. Email has become one of the main forms of conversing with one another within a work environment. Here’s some headline stats I’ve read in the past few days:

–          an estimated 2.8million Emails are sent every second;

–          the average UK worker receives 12,000 Emails a year.

As with lots of things in life, for me it’s about expectations. But let’s be clear, Email shouldn’t be about Great Expectations. It should be about the reducing expectation of receiving a quick reply.

Emails can somehow dominate your working life with seemingly no way of addressing this. The balance just feels all wrong. After all, even if you don’t send out masses of Emails, without fail, masses of Emails still appear each day in your in box. That feeling of being on a hamster wheel is very hard to escape.

So what can you do about it? Personally I’ve been fighting against the Email drain for several months now and have three main tips I’d like to share:

1)      I’ve got an Email auto message which is sent back to anyone who Emails me saying that I only aim to check my Emails at key points of the day.

2)      I only send an Email if I have to which was a challenging change in mind-set for me. My tendency to fire off an Email as soon as I think about it is hard to resist even now.

3)      I’ve turned by Email pop-up message off so that every time a new message appears I’m not constantly reminded of being held to ransom by the hamster wheel.

And you know what? The most amazing thing happens. Other people get the auto Email message and comment what a good idea it is. And so the idea spreads. I’ve even found people like Nick Atkin (@nickatkin_hht) with his organisations plan to ban internal Email.

At the very least I hope its resulted in some people pausing before firing off that Email and may also have caused an increase in good old fashioned face-to-face talking.

So, I challenge you to alter your Emailing ways from this point forwards. It’s truly amazing how empowering it feels to take control!