By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor
As of the first day of Lent, I'm giving up email for 40 days. I know what a lot of you are saying: "Oh jeez, that's pretty easy, wish I could do that." It's not going to be as easy as you think though, especially with our dependency on the now 43-year old communication tool in business and education. So why even bother? I have many reasons, but it all started a few months ago...
An Idea is Born
Sometime in September, I sent an email out to all 2,700 Westlake High School students. It was a simple request, asking them about an update for the iPad and how many had done it. Two weeks later, ONE student emailed me back. I was so grateful, but at the same time exasperated at the lack of response. I asked the student, "Thank you so much, but why did you take two weeks to email me back?" His response left me floored—"We don't use email."
There it was, plain and simple. Much like the music shifts from generation to generation, apparently forms of communication have shifted. This may seem obvious to anyone reading this, but I started thinking, what am I going to do about it to keep the adults connected with the youth (especially in a profession like mine)?
By giving up email as a primary communication tool for a period of time (40 days), others trying to get in touch with me will be forced to use alternate means of communication, thus making them much more aware of the many other ways we can communicate besides email.
Other Theories and Data
I spend on average between 2.5 to 4 hours a day on email. When I say "on" email that means reading it, replying to it, checking it on my phone, checking it on my iPad, deleting, archiving, sorting, etc. The actual tasks that come to me via email may actually be less than the amount of time I'm on it. While communication is important, I'm hopeful that with alternate forms (chat, phone call, tweet, etc.) of communication, I'll be saving time in my day to work on other tasks and more meaningful projects.
One other negative about always checking email is that I'm spending time either on my computer (at work) or on my phone (at home) rather than actually communicating with people or my kids face-to-face. I'm hoping that by freeing up this time, I'll be able to spend more time on campuses talking to people and less time in my office alone. I'll be tracking data on increases in human interactions, increased connections via social platforms, and time spent working on meaningful projects.
Alternate Forms of Communication:
You might be surprised at the number of alternate ways we communicate. I have set my auto-response on my email and when listing all the other ways to get in touch with me, I came up with 15! Here's a screen shot of my actual auto-response that will go out:
Since I don't have unlimited text messages and I don't want my personal cell number going out to the world, I'm using the Google voice app to gather voice messages and texts. Besides the auto-response, I've also rearranged the apps on my phone into a folder called "Communication 2.0" in hopes of having all my messages go there.
Positive Expected Outcomes:
This social experiment will be a success if:
1. I can get at least one person to communicate in a different way
2. I can work on more meaningful projects
3. I can actually talk and visit with more people in person
The main challenges lie with my peers. Email has become the easiest tool for many of us, so learning a new way to reach out to someone will be frustrating for some. I'm fully aware that many of the administrators in my building and at other districts use email as the primary and sometimes only form of communication. That might get me in some hot water as this challenge goes along, but that's also why I tied it into Lent. After all, I can't get fired for religious reasons, right?
Follow the Progress
I'm starting an #emailLess page on my blog where I'll post updates every so often. I'll also be tweeting to the hashtag #emailLessLent as I encounter challenges, interesting stories, and hopefully, some positive outcomes.