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Having a work routine and some limits is probably a good idea and something I need to work on. The notion of not checking e-mail until 10AM, as suggested by lifehacker, in Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality Over Quantity, is tempting and something I do on mornings when the creative muse is dancing (which has thankfully been happening more frequently these days). However, the use of e-mail is culture driven. Constant checking of e-mail may not be demanded, but it is not uncommon in many office cultures that one has read and possibly followed up on e-mail by arrival at the office.
Communication is (minimally) a two-way exchange. If everyone practices a 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. schedule, just think how long it might take to get a reply to your own messages, which you “send any time”. E-mail is just one mode of communication, in a digital world. Communication and information options, such as Twitter, Yammer, and other tools can push information and vie for our attention nearly 24/7. Each of these communication tools has it’s own unique characteristics and we can uniquely adopt them for our own reasons. Conversations can begin in one mode and migrate to another, or even continue simultaneously in multiple modes. An e-mail may inform you of something you feel compelled to share in Twitter. The Tweet might lead to reflective thought which is posted in a blog. The blog might generate responses which trigger a wide conversation.
So, perhaps instead of a concrete rule which stipulates when I will read my e-mail, I need to reflect on communication in general and ask a few questions.
Why do I use e-mail?
Who is sending e-mail?
What other communication tools do I use?
Why do I use each tool?
How do I decide to move the conversation to a different mode?
Is it OK to stop following an individual in Twitter, etc. as your needs and relationship changes?
Which tools should I drop?
Is there a way to quickly identify critical e-mail communication from other types?
Are other communication tools contributing to my work, thinking, or life in general?
Can I use special techniques, such as subscribing to RSS feeds, monitoring the messages of “friends” or using a customized “portal”, such as a Ning?
I’ll ponder these questions and more. I’m not sure which mode of communication I’ll use as I search for answers.