Kathryn Parsons, Co-Founder Of Decoded On Her Email Ban And Why Tech Will Solve Our Digital Addictions


As co-founder of Decoded, Kathryn Parsons' working day is inundated with tech, which was why it came as a shock when she openly admitted to coming off email.

Her multi-award winning company, founded in March 2011, went from a London start-up to the infamous place to learn to code in just one day.

As business increased, so did the hundreds of emails in Parsons' inbox.

"My inbox started to look like other people's to-do lists," she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "I completely came off it for three months, and it was only when someone asked to 'drop me an email' after they heard me speak at an event that it came out in the open.

"My email had just got out of control and as the business grew, so did my team. I was getting emails that could be dealt with by other team members."

Kathryn Parsons

Parsons said her email ban stemmed from her struggle to spend time with her team.

"I was unable to work on the strategy of the business and be creative because I was spending so much time replying to emails," she adds.

To her surprise, it was a lot easier than she thought.

Parsons and her colleagues began using Slack, the real-time messaging system and collaboration tool for workplaces. All internal communication within the business was done on this programme.

Did she miss anything major because of it?

"I missed a few invitations to events, one was someone's birthday party and the other was a photoshoot for a piece being run in Vogue magazine. That was a bit gutting," she admits.

"But that was inevitable. In the grand scheme of things, I was surprised at how little slipped through the gaps.

"There were other ways people could contact me and most managed to find the right avenue. I was always a phone call or text away, and actually, I preferred that."

Three months later, Parsons went back on email but with a much stricter regime - no internal emails were sent (they continued to use Slack) and she became tough on external emails by delegating and prioritising them.

"It's much more efficient and creates transparency," she adds.

Prior to the detox, Parsons would try to reply to hundreds of emails a day but now will manage a smaller amount of around 50.

Tech has been a huge part of Parson's life since leaving university.

She studied languages at Cambridge and can speak Japanese, ancient Greek and Latin. After graduating, she worked at Ogilvy in digital media and technology, but left to set up her own business: The Scarlett Mark.

The business was an advertising agency which used digital innovation and creation for brands, famously creating the virtual/real-world character Cherry Girl, which aired on MTV International.

Parsons quickly realised that pushing the limits of what was digitally possible relied on code. And not enough people knew about it.

"It wasn't just me, but CEOs of tech companies weren't even sure what we were talking about when it came to coding," she reveals.

"I was in a tech business but noticed the skills gap and I thought to myself 'could you teach someone to code in a day?'"

It was while working at The Scarlett Mark she met her future co-founders of Decoded: Alasdair Blackwell, Steve Henry and Richard Peters.

Decoded’s Code in a Day launched in August 2011 as a workshop for 10 people but the seminars have since evolved globally, from Hong Kong, South Africa and New York.

Participants come in having never coded anything, and by the end of the day build their own app using HTML, CSS and Javascript programming languages.

When Decoded's popularity ballooned, Parsons put her other business on hold.

Although the whole premise of their business revolves around technology, Parsons said the Decoded mission is about communicating effectively.

"Our mission is to make tech feel sane and manageable and that you’re in charge of it. The problem is that a lot of people feel that tech only creates more chaos for them," she says.

"At Decoded, we create an environment where people feel they are willing to give coding, data and technology a try, be inspired, learn how to better communicate and be more creative – both in work and everyday lives."

During the code in a day workshops, Parsons said there are always points in the day where people come away from the computers.

"The day courses involve a lot of prior testing to see how people learn. It's intense exhilarated learning so we make sure people leave computer screens and put their devices away," she says.

"We sit and discuss and have an incredible lunch, because human brains need that in order to be most productive.

"It would be a disaster if people were tied to their machines the whole time. We have about three or four structured breaks."

But asked if she'd ever tried or will try a complete digital detox, her answer was probably the same as everyone else's: it would be pretty hard.

She adds: "I was on holiday recently with no reception and I found myself going outside to the top of the hill to get some signal, and all I got was a text from my mum.

"That says it all really, doesn't it?"

She might not be off email now, but Parsons tries to take 10 minutes out of every day to embrace mindfulness and disconnect.

Her boyfriend is the co-founder of the Calm app , a meditation app to help modern day people sleep better and disconnect for five or ten minutes.

She says: "Going out with him, he's introduced me to a lot of that. I definitely try and use the app to meditate every day.

"When we are together we are really good at doing it every single day. We'll always try something new.

"We went on holiday and meditated with a coach, not using the app. It was a real, hour-long meditation and it was really hard work. It's all about learning to train your mind to switch off or focus on putting thoughts away."

Parsons, who openly admits to being a "technology lover", says people usually fall in two camps: those who love it and those that don't.

She says: "Tech was created by human beings and we should all be looking at different ways we can harness technology in good ways, like the Calm app and crowdfunding. These things benefit us.

"Tech's ability to help us is brilliant. It has a purpose of making things better.

"It's ironic isn't it, that you use tech like the Calm app to help you disconnect?"

This August we're running a Digital Detox campaign, where we're championing switching off, spending more time with our loved ones and being more mindful around technology. From inspirational interviews to how it can massively improve your life, we hope to inspire everyone to get out there and reconnect with the world. If you'd like to contribute or blog, email uklifestyle@huffingtonpost.com or tag us on social media using the hashtag #HPDigital Detox

Christopher Nolan

Digital Detox Habits Of Sucessful People

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