SPARK Day 20: Boss Your Email

Spark Jan 2014


Welcome to Spark Day 20.  This journey is all about embracing practices that help make room for us to create and embrace what we most want in our lives.  We’re creating new systems, embracing new ways of being, and reorganizing around things that feel defeating.

If you are anything like me, a full email box can feel overwhelming and so I have worked hard over the last year to really make my email more manageable.  If your email feels like it has gotten out of hand, here are some ways to reign it in.

1.  Manage what comes in.  A couple months ago, I went on a fierce unsubscribe tear which has reduced what comes in– a lovely thing.  In addition, I created a Do/Watch/Read file to put the things that I am really interested in reading in detail (newsletters I am subscribed to and the articles and videos people send me) when I am not overwhelmed.  My weekly goal is to go Do/Watch/Read 1-2 items out of that file.  Finally, I managed some of my social media accounts so I wouldn’t, for example, get an email every time someone spoke to me on Twitter since I can see that on my Twitter account (note to self: I need to do this for Pinterest, too, so I don’t get an email for every repin).

2.  Pick up the phone.  Sometimes, one email is not going to take care of the entire situation at hand, but one phone call could.  Opt for the phone call when it is the more efficient, effective option.

3.  Reign in the group email.   Need to schedule a group meeting?  Opt for Doodle when you have a lot of dates, a lot of people (or both) or use BCC so folks just respond directly to you so you can gather the dates, for example, and then get back to everyone on a final option.  When you are on the receiving end of group emails, read everything that is in inbox before responding and then try to just send a response from one email.

4.  Put some parameters in place.  I taught high school during the age of beepers.  My leadership students once told me that they needed me to get a beeper so that way, they could reach me if they needed me on the weekend.  My response?  ”First, of all, I am not that essential.  There is nobody who needs me THAT much that I need to be reachable at all times.  And if I haven’t taught you what you needed to know about life before getting yourself into that situation, I am certainly not going to be able to teach you a darn thing while you are in the midst of it.”  Now, we are in the era of smart phones and people think we should all be ALWAYS reachable.  Except I don’t really want to be always reachable and maybe you don’t want to be either.  Here are some ways to be less reachable…

A.  Set your email hours.  In your email signature, set your hours.  Tell folks when you check and answer email.  This will take some pressure off yourself to always answer quickly.  At the beginning of each semester, I tell my students that I check email from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.  If they need me, email me during business hours and I’ll answer.  If they have a paper due on Friday and have a question, they know they need to email me by 4:45 pm on Thursday to get an answer from me.  My students do not even blink when I tell them this and I think I model a good work/life balance with this parameter.  In addition to communicating that parameter to students, I very rarely do email from Friday afternoon to Sunday night.  Unless it is time sensitive to those few days, it sits in my inbox and I try to do a quick email clean out on Sunday night to prepare for the new week.

B.  Control what is on your smart phone.  The way that I keep myself honest about not answering my students’ emails at all hours is that I do not have my university email account on my smart phone.  I have no idea what is in my inbox until I log onto the university site from my computer.  Automatic control measure right there.  If it is your phone and you are paying for it and you aren’t saving the world or humanity IMMEDIATELY via email, don’t feel like your work email has to be on your phone.  Granted, I do a lot of my work via my personal email account but having at least one work email account not on my phone does help.

5.  Be succinct.  Don’t do all of your relationship building in email.  That makes an email too long for everyone.  Try to be as direct as possible and let folks know whether or not the email contains just FYI stuff or actionable stuff right at the top.  People will love you for making their email kinder and will begin to make your email kinder

6.  Back away from the email.  When I really need to focus on a project (like writing a book proposal or putting together a new workshop), I put an out of office message on my email and refocus my energy and attention elsewhere.  I know that at any time I can choose to pay less attention to email but officially putting up the out of office helps me really shift my energy into whatever I am working on.              

I know some people only answer email at set times during a day, and I am sure there are many other strategies for bossing your email.  What are yours?

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One response to “SPARK Day 20: Boss Your Email”

  1. Josh Gaffga

    Great, and helpful, post, Rosie- Thanks!

    As a middle school teacher who would rather spend my time instead being with, and planning for, students, I do three things to manage the beast that is email:

    1. I schedule email answering time into my day, much as I would a meeting or class. If it’s not “email” time, I’m not checking it (and I turn off the pop-ups that sing to me like Sirens…).

    2. I practice David Allan’s “Getting Things Done” method: Create an “Action” folder for emails that will take longer than two minutes to respond to and drag those emails from your inbox to this folder. During email time, I chip away at those after the quick ones are done. Much easier to keep the inbox ’empty’, as a result.

    3. I funnel emails from important people (boss, dept. head, wife, who is a colleague, etc.) into their own special folders. During email time, I hit those first.

    I find that, on busy teaching days especially, the emails can still get out of hand… But applying these three methods has turned email from something that happens to me into something that I control.

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