Claire Burge, a new life without emails

Claire Burge

Hi all,

I am Laurent Hausermann, from « Road to Innovation » blog. I’ve met Claire Burge on the Internet, following her great article on 99U website. Claire and I, exchanged a couple of messages over social networks, and we decided to publish a joint blog post.

It’s a great pleasure for me to interview Claire Burge. Let's chat with her !

Cet article est disponible en version française.

Hi Claire. Where are you from?

Originally South Africa but I now live and work in Ireland because of the tech community that is growing and thriving here.

Is it in Ireland, you felt in love with mountain bikes?

I have ridden bikes since I was a kid, but yes only in Ireland did I start doing downhill mountain biking. I have fallen in love with the technical challenges that a wet climate country gives.

What's your current job ? I understood that you have two quite different positions?

I own Get Organised Ireland and I am a co-founder of Sorted Circus, a Get Organised spin out. I am also a food photographer. I need different activities in my life to keep me interested and engaged in all of them. A monotonous work week is the death of me!

Get Organised is a training company that provides productivity training to organisations. Sorted Circus is an online training solution that will be launching early 2014. Processes and systems are the core area that we train in. We take highly disorganised teams to the next level by getting them to work from processes and systems.

I have also written a book called "Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree". This is another blog post topic, but I am of the opinion that productivity and creativity are two parts of a greater whole that need to work in tandem with one another.

Why have you chosen to live as a freelancer? Wasn't it a tough move?

Freelancing is a very tough move. It comes with a lot of uncertainty and sales has to be a strength if you want to build anything with some form of sustainability. I chose this way of working because it suits my way of working optimally. It allows me the freedom I crave and it also meets my need to constantly be engaging with new people and projects.

You told me that you had a epiphany moment about email management...

One day while driving home, I thought: “Why don’t I just stop using email altogether?” That night while drifting off to sleep I imagined my email-free life. I liked the picture. Within the same week, I made the decision to cut email out of my life.

In order to start this experiment, I needed to track the difference in my productivity levels with and without email. I started my no email journey by installing RescueTime, a tool that tracks your workday activities and calculates a productivity score for you. The system is fully customizable. It took me a few hours to input the online sites and tools that make up my working day. I also inputted all the sites and places that I would deem as distractions. From there I ranked each item on a distraction scale from -2 to +2. I worked in my normal way for one week so that I was able to benchmark, after I implemented changes. My productivity score at the end of the normal week with email was 23 percent.

23 percent, it's quite low... How did you inform people of your move away from email?

Yes, 23% is very low but that is the reality of what most people are dealing with on a daily basis because of email distractions and interruptions. I wanted hard data/metrics to back up my decision because I knew it would prove useful down the road, that is why I set out to measure it.

I started letting people know about my decision and thought it would be the easiest part of the process. It proved to be the hardest. I put a note on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to announce my decision. I put an auto-responder on my email which read as follows:

Subject: No More Email

Body:

As many of you know, I am on a mission this year to reduce email with the aim of completely removing it out of my life.

My reason for wanting to do this:

  • I believe it is a time waster.

  • I believe it sucks people dry of valuable time that could be spent     productively working on things they love.

  • I believe that it is a duplication of all the systems we already use.

It basically serves as a notification system to convey information we already know.

So, please do connect with me in the following places: Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn.

Thanks for helping and if you feel so inclined, I would love for you to join me on this mission of simplifying my space and time.

Kindly,

Claire

This email auto-responder has since changed. It now reads as follows:

Subject: Living an email free life! … Join the fun.

Body:

I experimented with it for a year and then documented the entire process. An email free life is bliss. Read about the experiment here:

http://99u.com/articles/7274/how-i-gave-up-email-and-reclaimed-3-hours-a-day

Please connect with me in the following places:

Twitter: @claireburge

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/claireburgephotography

LinkedIn: http://ie.linkedin/in/claireburge

What a bold move! What were their reactions?

The reaction to my decision was interesting: a few people even decided to join me. Others told me that I was mad. The most interesting response came from my clients: they were genuinely relieved. My decision meant less email for them to deal with, no matter how small that daily number was in the larger pool of emails they were rummaging through. I felt encouraged. I knew I was on to something.

And now how are you working with them?

I explained to them that all work would be moving into a collaborative space. I set up accounts with Huddle, TeamworkPM, Basecamp and Asana. I would’ve preferred to only set up one tool but each of these platforms offers something unique that my respective clients needed. In order to not cause too much disruption, I decided I needed to meet the client where they were on tools they already used. The primary goal of these systems was to reduce the email deluge, and they did, because email notifications from the system can be controlled.

I also trained my clients to classify their communications as follows:

  • Day to day discussions that do not need to be retained for future reference

  • Important information that needs to be referenced over and again by team     members

  • Information that needs to to move to a task list because it requires specific action.

  • Each of the project tools addresses these three types of communication very well. The message sections are suitable for day-to-day discussions. Important information that the team needs to refer back to over and over should always be documented in whiteboards and notebooks which are easily accessible, and any information that relates to tasks should always be managed in the task section of the project tools.

Every single client made the transition with ease and all of them have subsequently implemented the same tools into their own businesses.

Could you tell us more on the benefits you see?

The transition was far easier than I expected and what surprised me most was how relieved clients were to make the change with me. The greatest benefits that I have found include:

  • I have reclaimed on average three hours of every working day.

  • I am able to get home and switch off. I cook, exercise and read at night which I love doing and I do all these things guilt free.

  • I no longer start the day with email. Instead, I open the project tool belonging to the client who I will be giving my attention to for that day,

  • I no longer experience the compulsive need to empty out my inbox all the time.

  • I handle less than 10 emails per day.

  • I no longer need to email and request progress reports from individual people. The system shows me where people need help due to slipping deadlines or where some employees do not have enough work.

And, last but not least, my productivity score has gone from 23 percent when I was using email as my primary communication tool, to 68 percent over a period of 10 months!

Fantastic! I am a long time fan of “Inbox Zero” method, and I handle a GTD system for all my pro work... But it looks like you improve these ideas, adding collaboration and teamwork...

Yes, I know the various productivity systems out there and they all have significant benefits. I am a very big fan of collaborative working because I have seen first hand the amazing ideas and spin outs that can occur from active online working spaces. Individual use of productivity systems is powerful for the individual but that power increases exponentially when teams start working in shared environments with productivity protocols in place.

Using your experience, how would you recommend our readers to start implementing  a system that allows them to live a life free of email?

A few pointers off the top of my head:

  • Note that it takes commitment. At a fundamental level you are talking behaviour change here. That is one of the toughest things to do as we all know.

  • There will be resistance from a lot of people around you. Have a strategy in place to handle this.

  • Be accommodating towards people who cannot make this move due to work restrictions.

  • If this is something that you want your company to adopt, take it to management and back it up with some hard facts about productivity (and revenue) lost due to poor email management. Numbers make executives look at things differently. I am very happy to help you with these stats if you need them.

  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Make sure that everyone in your circles knows you are doing this and why you are doing this.

  • Track yourself. There is little point in doing something if there is no real benefit to doing it.

  • Understand the fundamental reason why you want to move away from email. There needs to be a driving force behind the decision.

  • Pick a project management tool and really get to know it. If you keep trying new ones out, you will not ever settle into the new system. In other words, keep the variables to a minimum.

Last but not least, Claire. You're just released a book called Spin. It looks like you're teaching people how to develop their creativity without sacrificing productivity.

Yes, in my work with clients, I have come to see that creativity is not the “luxury” people like to term it. It is critical to business success. The internet has exponentially increased the speed of change in all business sectors and it is only highly creative people, who are productive as well, that will be able to stay ahead in this game. I see it over and over in the companies I work with: creative, productive employees that know how to measure their bottom line contribution to their companies are the ones who go further and make the biggest impact.  

Claire's book is already available here !

Described as part chaos, part rocket fuel. Claire Burge is a productivity specialist who heads up the international company Get Organised in Ireland. She and her business partner, have co-founded Sorted Circus which will be launching next year. Her book on Creativity is called Spin: Taking Your Creativity To The Nth Degree. To see the delicious food she gets to photograph, check out her portfolio site. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Claire Burge could be reached at :

Help this blog, get Rescue Time (affiliate link), the awesome tool Claire used to improve it´s productivity and make emails disapeared.

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Posted on November 18, 2013 and filed under Interview.