Stopping the Email Avalanche

I feel I had some of the best training available in "How to be a faculty member" during my grad school experience at the University of Missouri. Seriously. I was prepared to teach. I was prepared to do research. I was prepared for meetings and collaborative projects. I was not prepared for the email. 

Don't get me wrong: I got email as a grad student. As a course instructor, you get students' emails. As a member of the Department, you get emails. However, the level of email that comes as a faculty member is a whole different matter than when I was a student.

I was referred by a friend to the video 'Inbox Zero'. Wanna Watch? (The actual talk here is only about 30 minutes, but the whole video including the Q&A session is 58 minutes. Time well spent if you ask me!) If you are in a time crunch, the heart of the presentation is from 10:00 to 30:00.

(I should acknowledge: This information actually paralleled pretty well some information I had received from Dr. Croom's Time Management course while working on my Master's at NCSU in 2003... but the context there was the paperwork you deal with as an Ag Teacher. It made all the difference in my teaching career.) 

Merlin Mann talks about his email system.When mail comes in, you process it. He makes a very clear point that "Processing is not responding". That is pretty freeing. That means I don't have 500 emails to respond to... I have 500 emails to process. Processing breaks down into five verbs: Delete (or archive), Delegate, Respond, Defer or Do. It seems easy enough. He calls this "advanced common sense" (a phrase borrowed from David Allen, the G.T.D. guy).

Merlin also makes the astonishing claim that the inbox should be for items not yet processed. My favorite part of the presentation is this quote "The default status of your inbox should not be 'keep sitting here until I start weeping'". Love it.

He also suggests you  "Do email less". Close your email and let it accumulate and then, when you open it, process to zero, close it and go back to work. Many items will seem less important when they aren't coming at you with notifications. He also makes the point that if you have your email set to check for new emails every minute, you are enduring 2400 interruptions a week. Whoa! No wonder I feel like email owns my life.

Starting project Inbox Zero today.

New goal: I want to be an email ninja!


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  2. I need to listen to Merlin once a quarter! I'm glad to hear that you found it interesting. For my state officers I even made little laminated "Inbox Zero" signs with the five actions to tape to their computers, but my experience has been that high schoolers don't get enough emails to "get" this video. I wonder what your students would think of this video?