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A Sane Approach to Email

As much as I think this would help me, I think it’s a great reminder to facilitators and learners alike! The synopsis of this article on email comes from Kim Marshall’s synthesis in The Marshall Memo.

“Every minute you spend on email is a minute you’re not devoting to doing something awesome,” says Central Connecticut State University professor Jason Jones in this thoughtful Chronicle of Higher Education article. “You’re not writing a new article or designing a new assignment or running a new experiment. You’re not jogging. You’re not playing with your kid. You’re not sleeping.” Not staying totally on top of e-mail won’t get you fired, he continues, but it can make us feel overwhelmed, stressed, and (ironically) disconnected. “We thought that the platforms and devices that make communication and access to information preposterously easy meant that we would be able to get our work done more efficiently,” says Jones. “And that might even be true. But just as we misjudged the theoretically paperless office that generates more paper waste than ever, we missed the fact that those devices would expand our work exponentially.”

He isn’t saying we should trash our devices and stop using social media. Rather, he’s suggesting that we manage our expectations – and those of our colleagues and loved ones. His suggestions:

Chunk e-mail. “Keeping your e-mail up all the time, checking every few minutes for new messages, is a recipe for witless inattention,” says Jones. Process your e-mail in batches a few times a day – and don’t pick times of the day when you have lots of energy. Those times should be devoted to doing your real work.

Explain your expectations to others. If they don’t know about your chunking strategy, they’ll get upset if you don’t respond to e-mails immediately.

Turn off thenew messagenotifications on all your e-mail programs. “It doesn’t matter whether you have new mail, because you’ll be checking it in a few hours anyway,” says Jones. Getting buzzed every few minutes destroys concentration.

Use rules and filters to process your mail. It’s easy to set up a filter that will deal automatically with shipment notifications from Amazon and file interesting links for later reading (Instapaper does the latter). When he’s immersed in a project (for example, grading papers), Jones turns off all e-mail except for a special account that his wife uses.

Realize that few e-mails need a handcrafted response. “Text-expansion software (on a Mac, try Text Expander) is now sophisticated enough that you can save yourself a remarkable amount of time and energy in processing simple messages,” says Jones.

With social media, give yourself permission to miss stuff. This is not a “hanging crime,” he says. “The always-on mentality is not a culture that promotes the best work, which really ought to be our focus. When we pull back from our devices in order to engage more fully in our work, we’re not choosing ivory-tower withdrawal or faux-Luddite refusal. We’re helping to build a more tolerable, attention-friendly future.”

“You’ve Got Mail. And Better Things to Do” by Jason Jones in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 10, 2012 (Vol. LVIII, #43, p. A53-54), no e-link available

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