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Email is Anti-Social 3: Reactive vs. Proactive Work

By Anthony J. Bradley | September 17, 2013 | 0 Comments

This part 3 of an “Email is Anti-social” multipart blog. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

Email is ephemeral. It is a continuous stream of loosely connected messages with a relatively short useful life. The efforts of collectively trying to advance a collaborative product gets lost in a seemingly never ending stream of short-lived messages. This nature of email drives an interrupt and reactive approach to work. Email is a multitasking nightmare with new distractions emerging by the minute.

I’ve gone into email to do something specific and then get caught up in email for 30 or more minutes. Extract myself to attend to something more productive. And then realize that I never actually did what I originally went into email to do. I doubt I am the only one that gets caught in that email multitasking trap.

Imagine that you are trying to contribute to the advancement of our Lego interceptor while constantly getting pelted by Legos from other Lego sets, sets you are not even involved in putting together. Email does not provide an environment where the collaborative product can exist as the focus of the efforts. Instead the effort is entangled in a morass of other efforts many of which you are not a part. With E-mail the participants are central and the purpose, the effort, is subservient.

Substantial work rarely happens in e-mail. It may happen in Word, Powerpoint, a F2F meeting or some other environment and then be distributed via e-mail. But email is the distribution channel not where the work is actually done.

Meaningful collaboration requires a more proactive focus. Social collaboration provides a dedicated space where the collaborative product is central and where we focus on it. When you go to Wikipedia you go there to create a Wikipedia article. It exists for that sole purpose with no distractions. The purpose, the collaborative product, is central and the participants are subservient.

This moving from the reactive to proactive requires a change in mindset, a more disciplined approach. Many of us have gotten used to, if not addicted to, checking e-mail regularly to see and react to what comes at us. Meaningful collaboration is different. It requires us to set some time aside and go to the collaboration product to contribute. It requires us to break free from the steady stream of interruptions, set priorities, and spend quality time contributing.

This is a change with which many people struggle. I sometimes do. Do you?

Please respond while I go check my e-mail.

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