No Email August

electronic-mail

For the entire month of August, I’m not using email. This is one of my annual experiments that annoys both family and colleagues. Here’s a quick breakdown of why I’m doing it and how it’s going so far.

You may remember last year when I did 30 days without a cell phone. I typically do these communication cutoff tests for two reasons. The first and main reason is to see what it’s like to manage day-to-day life under a huge handicap or restriction. Just like with building startups when you have a massive limitation, you’re forced to find a more efficient way to do things. And even if you fail, you tend to learn a few things along the way and are left with a new perspective. It’s sort of like losing an arm and still managing to play the drums.

The second reason is simply to reduce the noise in my life and work for a month. If you ask around, you’ll probably hear that I’m fairly unselfish with my time and accessibility to founders needing help, perhaps too much, to the point that I’m not able to get much of my own work done. I don’t mind that (and prefer to help), but sometimes it’s nice to get a little focus in one’s life. At the same time, only the really urgent tasks (or extra-hungry founders) will go to the extra effort to make contact. Since I’ll be available in real time on several other platforms like WeChat, Google Chat/Hangouts, and SMS, I only hear about the urgent stuff. In some ways, it’s like a vacation but with the ability to push forward important tasks, such as recruiting for my upcoming accelerator batch at 500 Startups (apply here). And since many already assume (wrongly so) that all VCs take August off, and I’m going to do just that, at least when it comes to email.

Living Beyond the Inbox

First, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that dropping email is very enjoyable. A few people have said that email is a to-do list that other people can add to, so it’s fairly easy to max out your calendar and pending backlog just trying to keep up with things being thrown at you. Of course, most of the things being tossed your way are not critical or can wait. So when you live and die by email, you tend to be busy but not always busy on the right stuff. Of course, work still needs to get done, so there must be some way to reach me.

To keep communications flowing, I’ve used a series of mobile and chat apps, including Google Hangout, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Fancy Hands, and Google Voice. Using these apps, I can still connect with just about anybody and, in general, wrap things up much faster than previously. For example, planning something via email might take a few replies over the course of a few days. With real-time messaging, you solve things in the present and move on. So while email has much better organization and search capabilities than some of these apps, the need to archive and recall threads is dramatically reduced simply by addressing some in real time. This means that the ephemeral nature of these tools is not too much of a hindrance. I have also set up a few Google forms to collect data about certain requests and a public Dropbox to receive files. I get text messages when these are hit so that, for example, I know when a pitch deck or something else is delivered.

Finally, I have an autoresponder in place so people are aware of why they’re not going to get a reply until September. That message lists several ways to contact me, so I’m still very much reachable to those who need me sooner than September. This has proven to serve as an extra filter, as only those who really need something (or the founders with hustle) will actually track me down before firing off that email. Everyone else who wants a meeting, to sell me something, or to “pick my brain” typically won’t follow up further, saving me the trouble and streamlining who I talk with.

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What Have We Learned So Far?

  • Happy Mornings: Just like with my no-cell phone experiment, I wake up a lot happier. Typically, I would grab my phone and scan through emails right when I woke up. Now, I can goof off a bit on social networks or read the news instead of being overwhelmed by incoming emails/requests.
  • Incoming Emails Slowing: I’ll admit that I still check the unread messages counter from time to time. It’s pretty clear that the unread count is slowing down, though, mainly because I’m not sending any emails, so without the replies from that, my incoming email flow is less than half of what it was last month.
  • Life Goes On: Still getting work done, talking to coworkers, helping founders, and even making investments (I did have to cheat and send two emails last week to lawyers regarding pending seed deals). It has been a nice break, and somehow the sky didn’t fall.

I’ll try to do another follow-up post at the end of the month. In the meantime, don’t email me. 🙂

Sean Percival

Sean helps startups get an unfair advantage in the market. Want to work together? Get in touch.