What started out with a bang, ended with a whimper on Sunday afternoon. I had made it nearly 19 days without interacting with email but the wheels were starting to come off some time late last week.
Our district is in the midst of it’s final iPad roll-out to 6th & 7th graders to complete an entire K-12 1:1 district. My position plays a key role in a lot of the decisions being made about these roll-out events and I have been out of pocket from these conversations to the point it was starting to hurt.
So, on Sunday (appropriately) at 4:53PM, I ended my ban on email by taking part in some discussions around the roll-out. My immediate reaction was a mix of depression and relief. I had made it a lot longer than many thought (including myself) and gained quite a bit of knowledge out of this experiment.
Logistics – If I had to do it all over again, I would have planned this better. I didn’t need 15 ways to get in touch with me. Turns out I only needed about 6 or 7. Every night while doing my counts for the day, I would catch myself skimming the previews of each email in case there was something exciting happening. While I focused my energy on my work email, I included my consultant email, my personal email and even my iPadpalooza account in the initial research.
Timing – It’s everything, right? At least that’s how the saying goes. While Lent seemed to outline a good amount of days to do this research, I had other events begin to get in the way. One was the fact that we were closing the early bird registration on iPadpalooza and the only way districts could register with PO was by emailing iPadpalooza@gmail.com. That meant I had to check those email’s and auto-forward them to our PO person. Not exactly fair to her.
Personally, I had two major events happen in my life within 12 hours of each other. I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator and became a father of 3 all in the same day. The ADE notice came….via email. My twitter friends quickly pointed that out to me. It was nerve-racking but once people started to tell me they were in or out, I had to sneak a peak.
The birth of my 3rd daughter meant time away from work, which meant the experiment and data changed course. Before I went on paternity leave, face to face interaction had definitely increased and in fact, led all other non-email interactions. Now that I wasn’t there in person (and a little pre-occupied) I had to rely on other means to communicate with people. To be quite honest, unless you were on Facebook, text, or Twitter, you probably didn’t hear from me for a while.
The Hypothesis –
The original hypothesis was that by giving up email as a primary communication tools, others would be forced to try out new means and hopefully expand their horizons. This both succeeded and failed in some senses. I noticed within the first day or two that while almost everyone was on board, there were a few that felt I was cutting myself off from them by not being on email. I got called to task about making others find different ways to get a hold of me when “email is just the easiest.” While that was the point of the experiment, I didn’t want it to negatively effect teachers who already have a lot on their plate, much less trying to figure out how to reach the tech guy.
Other (hopeful) outcomes –
I had hoped that I’d be able to do “more meaningful” work while not checking email. While I did get quite a few more personal chores done in the evening, work seemed largely unaffected. It seems much of my “meaningful work” came from the sometimes mundane tasks assigned to me via email. I feel like this wasn’t as much of a success also largely to the fact that I had to spend more time checking all the various methods of communication. (see Logistics above) That said, I was able to read an entire book for the first time since I can remember (World War Z – zombies of course).
My other hope was that not sitting behind my screen as much would force more face to face communication and collaboration. I can say without a doubt, this was the greatest success of this experiment. I spent more time with my family, talked to district staff I hadn’t seen in a while and even got to sub in a first grade classroom! While this seems like a simple idea, I was amazed at how touched people were by this concept of walking away from email to spend more time with others. I even had a small group of people (in admin no less) suggest we have an “unEmail Day” once a month to get out and see the kids, campuses, and staff. This will be something I employ going forward every month.
My last hopeful outcome was that I would have others communicate in different ways. Aside from a few folks that were stuck on email as the only method of communication, I felt this was a success as well. I had a principal join twitter, a GT teacher chat with me via Edmodo, and I got to chat with someone face to face (virtually) via Skype rather than a back-n-forth email exchange. I even had one parent communicate with me using smoke signals. The use of Dispatch for collaboration came in handy and will likely be a continued resource going forward with the team. I also finally got myself on Instagram (hookertech) since that seems to be the preferred communication method of kids. While the only letter I got was a printed off email, I really feel like making others aware of the alternative methods and the way kids communicate put things in perspective for most.
Final Data –
Thanks to Google Docs, I was able to track all the data on a spreadsheet. Final numbers:Unread email = 1545 Twitter conversations = 299* Facebook = 256 Face to face = 185 Text = 149
Next steps –
As stated, I’m going to continue to increase my face to face time in the district via self-imposed “unEmail Days”. I’m also in the process of sorting and labeling all 1500+ emails I received while I was away. Once I gather that data, I’ll go through and see areas that I can optimize in my own email to make it a more efficient tool for myself and hopefully others. While this social media experiment is over, I’m actually still in the midst of a 12-week social media diet challenge (via Facebook group). Only 5 weeks to go, but I’m down 25 pounds and in second place!
As for the next experiment, my wife has kindly suggested (or insisted) that the next challenge be giving up my iPhone for Lent. Just the thought of that makes my stomach hurt. How will I get anywhere? How will I contact people? That sounds a little too crazy for me. But then again, maybe that’s why I should do it…
Tomorrow, with the beginning 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 2700 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 starting tomorrow:
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:
- I can get at least one person to communicate in a different way
- I can work on more meaningful projects
- 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 this 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.