E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend

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First, the 4-minute mile couldn’t be broken. Then, men couldn’t land on the moon. Now, most have accepted e-mail as the permanent bane of their working existences.

But not all of us.

The following came to me via the prodigal Cameron Johnson, originally in USA Today. Below it are my recommendations for making this weekend one to remember:

SAN FRANCISCO — Overwhelmed by e-mail? Some professionals are fighting back by declaring e-mail-free Fridays — or by deleting their entire in-box.

Today about 150 engineers at chipmaker Intel (INTC) will kick off “Zero E-mail Fridays.” E-mail isn’t forbidden, but everyone is encouraged to phone or meet face-to-face. The goal is more direct, free-flowing communication and better exchange of ideas, Intel principal engineer Nathan Zeldes says in a company blog post.

E-mail-free Fridays already are the norm at cell carrier U.S. Cellular (UZG) and at order-processing company PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services in Alpharetta, Ga.

Prominent techies are tackling the problem individually by declaring “e-mail bankruptcy” — deleting or archiving an entire in-box and starting over. Among them: prominent tech bloggers Jeff Nolan, Michael Arrington and Vanessa Fox, and venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

E-mail overload is caused by the sheer volume of messages zipping around the globe. Each day, about 39.7 billion person-to-person e-mails, 17.1 billion automated alerts, and 40.5 billion pieces of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) are sent worldwide, researcher IDC says. White-collar workers often receive 140 messages a day, executive coach Marsha Egan says.

E-mail can be a useful communication tool, and people who write a lot of it are more likely to receive it, IDC (IDC) tech analyst Mark Levitt says. But it can quickly get out of hand.

“I didn’t even have time to figure out where to start,” says Edward O’Connor, a Web developer from San Diego who declared e-mail bankruptcy two weeks ago. O’Connor had about 750 messages dating back three years, almost all of which needed a reply. “I was completely overwhelmed,” he says.

Egan says even the busiest e-mailers can, with care, keep control of their in-boxes. Her tips:

•Don’t use e-mail to avoid unpleasant tasks. “I couldn’t believe people who had never talked to each other but worked in the same office,” says Scott Dockter, CEO of PBD. Dockter started e-mail-free Fridays about a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, the number of messages his 400 employees send has dropped by about 75%.

•Don’t constantly check for new messages. It can take four minutes to refocus on work after checking an e-mail, Egan says. Jay Ellison, chief operating officer of U.S. Cellular, estimates that his 7,000 employees spend about 1½ hours a day on their in-boxes. E-mail-free Fridays give them more time to solve customers’ problems, he says.

•Respond to important messages first — even if they’re difficult. Less-pressing issues can wait until a free moment, Egan says.

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So, how to save your weekend from e-mail or — worse still — the mediocrity of “what should I do?” and having it end before it starts?

I’m just as lazy as the rest of the world about weekend planning, so here’s the trick: I asked people to describe dream “dates” in detail in the second-to-last post. Now, in the comments, you have beautifully detailed itineraries for having an unforgettable 24 hours in dozens of cities and states, including:

Las Vegas
Honolulu
Utah
New York City
Washington, D.C.
Chicago
Los Angeles
Toronto, Canada
Boston
Atlanta
Munich, Germany
Seattle, Washington
Perth, Australia
Sydney, Australia
Jerusalem
New Orleans
Portland, Oregon
Missouri
Namibia
Jerusalem
Sedona, Arizona
Sydney, Australia
Cambria, California
Raleigh, North Carolina
Malaysia
Esfahan, Iran

Here’s the challenge: using the comments as samples, create at least one day this weekend that is truly amazing and put it in the comments here.

The reader whose description I like the most will get at least 36 copies of the 1st printing of The 4-Hour Workweek as early X-mas presents. First-edition manuscripts have sold for more than $1,500 on eBay, so these are nice stocking stuffers :)

Photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and such are not required, but some evidence will help prove the experience wasn’t just your imagination.

So, make haste — plan now and play hard!

[P.S. The winners of the dream date competition are mthorley, malia, AF, donovan, andrewrogers, ryanmcknight, macewen, and adam (seattle date). Please check your inboxes for further instructions.]

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58 comments on “E-mail-Free Fridays and How to Save Your Weekend