My Daily Workaround: Deleting Commercial Emails


    I had an epiphany the other day. It was one of those moments where I was pretty ashamed and was ready to turn in my Lean credentials.

    I spent too much time each day deleting the same emails from companies that I don't read.

    Delete. Delete. Delete. I cringe to think about adding the time spent deleting emails from the Yahoo account that I've had and used as my primary email for 12 years. I'm not talking about “spam” (or unsolicited) emails — I'm talking about the emails that come from news sources or companies I've done business with and not unchecked the “please contact me” box with.

    • (I don't even golf, how did this start getting into my inbox?)
    • realsimple magazine (how did I get on this list??)
    • gourmet magazine (I love food and cooking, but I never open these)

    I was embarrassed because I was practicing classic “workaround” behaviors, as seen in many workplaces and industries (including healthcare, where it's a major barrier to quality improvement, the willingness of employees to continually work around the same problems every day).

    An example of a healthcare workaround:

    1. There aren't enough blood pressure meters/cuffs in the nursing unit
    2. Nurses run around searching for meters
    3. Nurses sometimes hide them or claim them as “theirs”, preventing others from doing their patient care work in a timely way
    4. Working around the problem (not enough meters) does nothing to prevent step 1 from occurring the next day

    Instead of spending all of that time every day, the Lean mindset leads the nurses to solve the root cause of the problem. Why are there only three meter/cuff sets when they are supposed to have seven? Where did they all go? Find them and bring them back to the unit.

    But, finding and bringing them back is another sort of workaround if the nurses don't stop and ask “why did they disappear in the first place?” We have to investigate and find out if other units don't have enough equipment (leading them to “borrow” from another unit). Maybe the hospital, as a whole, has a shortage and we have to buy a few more.

    The ultimate non-workaround solution would replace every day searching with the implementation of a PROCESS and a SYSTEM that makes sure the needed equipment stays where it's used and needed.

    Considering this is what I preach and what I help others practice, I decided “enough.” For a week, instead of just deleting the emails (which *is* faster and expedient, after all), I would invest the time in clicking on the “click here to unsubscribe” links that you find in these emails.

    Some sites make it easy — one click and you're unsubscribed. Some less scrupulous sites make it difficult, requiring more clicks or making the process confusing (maybe intentionally so).

    One site had the default box checked saying “I do want to receive…”, so if you hit “submit” you are basically saying “Yes, keep sending these to me” which is ludicrous considering I only got to that web page because I had clicked unsubscribe for a reason…

    My assumption is that this one-time investment of “unsubscribe me” time will pay off day after day, week after week. My inbox will be less cluttered and I'll waste less time deleting emails I don't read.

    Of course, the San Jose Mercury News' “Good Morning Silicon Valley” daily email newsletter (which I read voraciously in 1999 and 2000) STILL keeps coming even though I have unsubscribed a few times. I guess that's a different kind of unscrupulous… a different form of waste.

    p.s. If you don't like getting my email newsletters, unsubscribing should just require one click and should be effective… let me know if Constant Contact is dropping the ball on this, but they are supposed to be good and ethical.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Mark,

      Now you’re hitting my area of interest! Well done!

      Re: the “Good Morning Silicon Valley” newsletter, you can set up a rule in your email client to automatically delete it, so you don’t have to. (Let me know if you need help with that.)

    2. Constant Contact is good and I would rely on them. Some sites are horrible, basically making you jump through tons of hoops.

      I just block all email from those companies. I don’t want to deal with them just based on their behavior in making me jump through hoops.

      I also learned long ago to segregate my email to separate accounts. I have an account I use to for all those places that require an email but I can’t imagine I ever want to hear from.

    3. Love the part about the nurses looking for the blood pressure cuffs! At my hospital it's otoscopes that constantly disappear, as well as the small pulse ox machines. As a physician I occasionally hook a patient to the pulse ox because I want to check a patients oximetry myself. I have thought about carrying one of my own–how's that for a work around!

    4. Echoing a poster above: learning how to set up a blacklist would be far more effective (and faster overall) than trying to follow traditional "unsubscribe" channels. The disadvantage is that you're not informing the sender that their e-mails aren't meeting their needs, and denying them an opportunity to see a problem. That is not, however, your responsibility.

    5. Mark – this was a very though provoking one, I have moved away from the workaround of deleting or clicking the spam button to fixing the root cause now. Thanks for sharing the thought!


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