We don’t do email …

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health”      Dalai Lama

I’ll be the first to admit, I need more rest!

In this 24/7 “always-on” world, the concept of joyfully being (not doing) has largely been lost. The technology revolution promising to integrate our life and work is doing the opposite. So I am going to take a shot at email here; it is killing me! Don’t get me wrong; I love email and what it enables.  But I hate it more than love it.

Enough already.

Halloween at Trader Joe’s

Unfortunately, I can’t live without email but am finished being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJs) is just the place to do that. In my interview, I was told,

“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”

Wait, are you kidding me!? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email?  If you listen to the Freakonomics podcast, “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”, you will get some insight they are doing quite well without it. They also don’t do branded products, sales, social media advertising, rewards programs, loyalty cards, self-checkouts, wide aisles, big parking lots, and more. They’re on to something.

Most people agree today that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills seen in the world today are a result of our being overloaded. Best-selling author Richard A. Swenson termed it a lack of “margin”, which he defined as the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.  Try reading a book without margins, you won’t get very far.

Time spent in email has devoured our margins and created a continuous 24/7 flow of information, an overload that spews data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle.  A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water causing a great deal of grief and exhaustion. God forbid I take a vacation, as the backlog of emails waiting when I return is enough to make me wish I never left.  This might partly explain why 52 percent of American employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year in 2017 (Project: Time Off).

I acknowledge email is a way of life both at work and home. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Almost 3.7 billion email users send a whopping 269 billion emails each day (The Radicati Group, Inc.). Email is the preferred method of communications (and marketing) in almost all situations.  An interesting (and funny!) read about how email has entered the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble”. In it, Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up selling email spam, was positioning their product:

“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.” 

Just under 30 years ago, none of us were doing email at work or home because it did not exist.  Email found its way into the work environment in the mid-1980s as I was launching my high technology career with ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM, but without email, I left my work at the office when I came home, truly done. When IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 we were introduced to IBM PROFS (Professional Office System), the first corporate email system to my knowledge at that time.

PROFS was designed to replace the typewriter

Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It served to simply relay information from IBM corporate which had no impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army.  I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.

By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, I would estimate that over 2/3 of my day was spent navigating my email. Even in meetings, I was only half listening as I browsed my “urgent” emails.  And like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email seemed to be a cloud that followed me home and came with me on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone and cellular networks made email exchanges easy, regardless of where you were.  Now I could do email when I was in line at the grocery store!

Contrast this with the picture below, which reminds me of my summers growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s at the beach. Entire days hanging out with friends, lying in the warm sand to heat you up after a long swim in the ocean, are vivid memories. As soon as we got too hot in the sand we would go back into the water to cool off. Repeat. Over and over until it was time to go home.

Photo credit to Matt Warsaw – “The History of Surfing”

There was no need to know about everything or be in touch with everyone.  It was easier to be present and enjoy life for what it was at that very moment. Insert a cell phone into the hands of either of these two guys and it destroys the image. How could you be enjoying the hot sand after a cool swim while watching the waves if you were sending or reading an email? You could of course, but you will agree it would not be the same.    

Enter Trader Joe’s. As my wife and I anticipated our COBRA health insurance plan ending, we began to look at options. Trader Joe’s offers a full benefits package for 30 hours a week on the clock. I filled out a simple job application and walked it down to our local TJs for an interview.  No appointment necessary.

In the interview, Amelia [Captain of the store] asked me a question about when I was available to work.  Our discussion went something like this:

  • Amelia:
    “I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
  • Mike:
    “That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
  • Mike:
    “Excuse me?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
  • Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
    “When can I start?”

What the !?!?

Deciding to give it a try and see if that is really the case, I am now five months in and am loving it. At the end of the day I feel completely content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. No email.

Here’s 10 things I like about working at Trader Joe’s:

1. “We don’t do email.”
We rest more.

2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJs.  Our jobs are crystal clear. One Captain (aloha shirt), a couple Mates (different aloha shirt), and Crew Members (hibiscus T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customer needs on a moments notice.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Every eight-hour shift is divided into eight blocks – each one designating a different job on the ship for that hour.  In one eight-hour shift, I can perform every job in the store, from cashier to stocking to carts to loading bananas to cleaning the floor, and more.  It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by and has helped me learn the entire operation of the store.  Brilliant.

4. Huddles.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are very short stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news and to keep things “ship shape”.  No muss, no fuss.  Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all-hands back on deck to help customers.

5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow sailors. This really surprised me at first.  If I were to go hugging people at Oracle I might end up at the HR office!  Even better, every two weeks my paycheck is personally handed to me, with a handshake, and a look-you-in-the-eyes “job well done” comment. Pretty simple. Now I’m fist bumping, handshaking, and hugging back. 

6. Happy people. 
Employees at TJs are happy.  Which makes the customers happy.  It’s “hunky-dory”. I am happy to work there.

7. Personal goodbyes.
I used to sneak out of the office at the end of a day hoping nobody noticed. When you leave TJs you go around the store and say a personal goodbye to those you are leaving behind. Add in a fist bump, handshake, or hug. Kid you not, the first couple nights I saw this I thought these folks were leaving the company!

8. Millennials.
Many of my co-workers are my children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both and are all “gung ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At TJs I am. LOL. It’s a kick.

9. Fantastic food with a family discount.
My entire family gets the employee discount when shopping at any TJs. The prices are already crazy low, so this really helps. And there’s always time on the ship for a cup of joe or a snack from the Demo bar to keep things on an even keel during your shift.

10. Just be you. 
TJ tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So the word on deck is to “be yourself”.  For those who know me, that is dangerous! I’m even wearing my shorts and Hoka’s to work every day.

**Resources**

Margin the Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s