On January 12th of 2009, my duck and I decided to go on Email Sabbatical.

The plan? To not read, write, or think about email.

I called it the let’s see what 2009 will be like without email experiment.

A month later, we wrote about it. In a post called The Great Email Sabbatical Experiment.

And we haven’t written about it since. Well, other than the hints I drop all over the website.

So I was all set to do a hey it’s been an entire year update post on the anniversary but then we missed it.

Disclaimer-ey note: I am not trying to get you (or anyone else) to quit email. I honestly do not have an opinion on this.

First things first. Quitting email is hard.

Honestly, I thought the insane emotional addiction aspect would be the rough part.

But even once that passes, there’s still all the other hard.

It took a lot of time, tearing-out-of-hair and trying-of-stuff to come up with the systems and the work-arounds that make it work.

So. What didn’t work and what did. Like a Friday Chicken but for my email sabbatical.

The hard, the challenging, the stuff that didn’t work.

Finding ways to not piss people off is pretty much impossible.

Whenever you establish boundaries, there are always going to be some people don’t like it.

Their stuff comes up and they’re too close to it to see that it’s theirs.

And sometimes they’re really vocal about why they don’t like it (and how much).

This is the hardest when it’s friends and people you really care about. Their stuff triggers your stuff. Your stuff triggers their stuff. Hard.

Training someone to answer my mail was pretty complicated.

I have been fortunate to have excellent help. Both my first First Mate on the pirate ship and the current First Mate give great email.

The thing is, even with you have a someone — and even if your someone is as capable and delightful as my someone — there’s still a pretty intense learning curve.

You need strong, inspired, flexible, agile systems. And your someone needs enough personality and experience to be able to ditch the systems and respond from the heart when that’s what it takes.

Getting people to stop writing? Or expecting a personal response? Even complicated-er.

It’s not exactly a secret that I don’t do email.

It’s right there on my ironically named contact page. And in the FAQ and on Twitter.

Which has definitely slowed down the hundreds and hundreds of daily messages to something a lot less overwhelming and terrifying. But yeah. You exist. People have stuff to say to you. They will write.

It takes time to get everyone used to the idea that this is how things are.

Okay. There’s really no such thing as no email.

Because even when you don’t have access to an inbox or a program, you still get inundated with messages.

Between Facebook, Twitter DMs, LinkedIn stuff and everything else, there’s still a steady flow avalanche of asks, concerns and general wanting-Havi-time.

I love hanging out on Twitter (it’s my favorite bar). It’s just that I go there to goof off, and when we first announced the email sabbatical, Twitter became a customer service center and it sucked all the fun out of my life.

And sometimes it seems like its easier to just respond than to try to find a nice way to say “sorry I don’t do even non-email email, please send this to the support staff”.

And oy-va-voy to you if you do respond because then it’s all over.

So you need to build some serious systems.

And each time you tweak a system, people will find another way to sneak around it.

Plus, there will always be some things that your First Mate doesn’t know how to deal with. And those pile up.

And pretty soon, you have a full inbox. It’s just not your inbox. But you still have it.

The long, hard process of trial-and-error.

The short version:

Having good systems is a lifesaver. But creating good systems kind of hurts my brain.

Big learning curve.

It’s not cheap. It’s very not cheap.

Still worth it, of course.

Because the way I see it? It’s still significantly less expensive than the amount of therapy I’d need (and all that time lost to emotional breakdowns) when my entire day is spent dealing with putting out fires.

Not to mention all the internal work and blah blah processing process-ey process that needs to happen when people fling shoes at me all day.

But yes, big crazy investment. Especially at first.

Not IM-ing with Nathan.

Hey, Nathan! I miss you!

So. That’s a hell of a lot of hard.

And I’m going to save what did work for next week.

But I will tell you this much:

All that hard is still nothing compared to my life pre-email-sabbatical.

A year ago I kind of imagined that it would be really fun to go back to email at the end of my sabbatical.

That I would have worked through this stuff — and with my new, healthier relationship with the guilt and the shoulds, it would all be different.

What actually happened is the thought of going back to email makes me want to gouge my eyes out.

So sabbatical is now officially retirement.

And this whole being more conscious about respecting my capacity thing is no longer in “hey, what an interesting experiment” mode.

Comment zen for today.

I know this is a sticky topic, with a lot of built-in guilt and uncomfortableness.

And I hope it’s clear that my process is not in any way meant to be a “this is how you should do things”.

Here’s what I’d love:

  • your thoughts on process, systems, capacity, interacting with making changes.
  • other things that are rough about transitioning out of email (that I didn’t think of or forgot to mention).
  • support and acknowledgment for doing something challenging and hard.

Here’s what I’d rather not have:

  • Explanations of why email actually is really great or why it’s necessary. I’m not anti-email. I’m not anti-you-doing-email. I’m just anti-situations-in-which-Havi-has-to-do-email.
  • Shoulds about how I really ought to have handled things differently.

Thanks, guys. Jessica Rabbit kisses to the commenter mice and all my Beloved Lurkers.

The Fluent Self