The blog points to a pretty extreme solution practised by Joana Breidenbach of charity fundraisers Better place If you send her an email during her vacation time, you get the following reply: "Many thanks for your mail. Unfortunately I won't be able to read it, as I am taking my annual email sabbatical. From (date x to y) all my emails will be automatically deleted." She explained that she started this email unplugged system as she receives 100 emails a day and so it was "overwhelming" to be on holiday knowing they would be there when she got back. She's told her colleagues that they can send her a text message in a real emergency and she still reads websites and Twitter - but the email torrent is blocked. In the blog they also cited the example of Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard University and an adviser to Microsoft. She also takes an email sabbatical. "Have you ever returned from vacation more stressed out than when you left? Is the reason because you came home to 10,000 email messages?" she asked in a recent post. She also handled the obvious question about missing out on wanted emails - but argues she worries less about that, than the consequence of not having a proper break. "When I'm burnt out, I'm... a terrible person to be around," Danah says.
When did things get so distorted that the primary responsibility (and hence urgency) of the issue automatically belongs to you, the receiving party. Surely the responsibility for the issue should remain with the initiating party, until such time as the issue is discussed and it is agreed who now owns the outcome. Putting the onus back on the person who sent the email can be achieved by not treating email as a real time communication method. When you are away for any period of time, your automated reply message can be worded to indicate to the other person that you are not in a position to receive any urgent requests and asking them to contact you via another means, such as text or voicemail. This technique alone can usually eliminate the majority of issues fobbed off on you, rather than genuinely escalated. Telling people you have no access to read the emails, even if you do, also helps keep the onus on the sender to own the issue until they can genuinely hand it over to you. Email is fantastic for non-real time transfer of information or data but it is hopeless for real time two-way communications. Rather than complaining about being a victim of the system, applying these simple techniques will put you back in control and it means your inbox becomes your friend again instead of your enemy.