I think email is one of those things I and my fellow millennials were supposed to kill, or maybe hate; I’m not sure what my generation’s official stance is supposed to be, but I kind of like email.
I came to this conclusion over time, after spending a considerable effort in making my email experience pleasant and functional. In this post, I want to show you some of the ways that I have done that and why.
First off, why do I care about getting emails I don’t need? Just delete it and go about your day, right?
There’s a podcast in my feed called Note to Self, it’s not my favorite, but this particular episode articulates the thought technology of single-tasking in an approachable way. So much so, that it is required listening for my 10th-grade students.
If you didn’t have the chance to listen to the podcast, here is the critical point in relation to this post. Every irrelevant email/notification/distraction negatively impacts your mental performance for, on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds! When one of my coworkers accidentally replies all to a staff of 150 people, they just reduced our building’s collective effectiveness by 3,487 and a half minutes.
How much better could our instruction be if we had 58 more hours to dedicate our full attention to students?
Turning off your email notifications and single-tasking your emails at designated times throughout the day can allow you to avoid the cost of context switching. Batch processing your email is a great plan!
However, when you get to your email time, the pile that has accumulated since your last check might be daunting. It might be so big that you don’t have time to get through it, and maybe an important email is buried and gets ignored until your next check. You will quickly stop batching your email once you get burned by missing said email.
I started using email rules to make the simple decisions about emails automatically. This way, when I sit down to batch process my email, not only are there drastically fewer, practically every one is important or actionable.
Here are some of my most impactful email rules:
Auto Delete Reply Alls
My school has a reply all problem, I do not, but my school does. Wasteful reply alls are a common source of frustration in group chats and at lunch. However, I don’t get to participate in those conversations because the first rule I made was to delete all reply all emails automatically.
It’s pretty simple, any email that is sent to the teacher distribution list, that also has a subject line that starts with RE: gets sent to my archive folder.
I have been running this rule for more than five years, and I have not missed a single piece of valuable information.
Auto Delete Routine Spammers
90% of the total email sent to my account is spam, my junk mail folder catches many of them, but several sources routinely avoid the filter or are impossible to block. Email rules to the rescue!
I work with some people who must not believe that most of the teachers in the building have not yet achieved object permanence. The worst offenders send 3 or 4 emails a day to the entire staff that only apply to 3 or 4 people, sometimes no one. I can only assume that they believe we will forget about them if we don’t get their emails.
Similar to the reply all rule, this email rule applies to emails sent to the teacher distribution list; however, the other requirement is that the offender sends the email. I will get an email if they send it straight to me, but this rule allows me to dodge dozens of attempts to steal my time every week.
John Mulaney has a great bit about how his college keeps asking him for money, even though he already gave them a ton via tuition. I have the same thing from my graduate school. I also get tons of unsolicited emails from vendors targeting science teachers. I’ll unsubscribe whenever possible, but the link routinely does not work, or I start getting emails from another branch of the same spammy organization.
I can apply similar rules as I have above, but with these external sources, I frequently will set up my email rule to automatically delete emails from an entire domain.
Auto Forward to New Person
I used to coach football and track. When my son was born, I stepped down from those roles. For quite a while, I was still getting emails about those sports even though I was no longer in that role, so I set up an email rule to automatically forward messages to the new coaches for each sport. I also have this set up for some of the roles I have had as a teacher.
Auto File Regular Reports
People throughout my school send out a variety of emails with reference material every week. Attendance information, early dismissal times for sports teams, etc., I might need to check this information later, but I do not need to know it right now, so I have an email rule to archive these emails. Last year I got rid of using folders for my email. I archive anything I want to keep and delete anything I will never need. If I organized my email with folders, I could have this rule move it to the correct folder instead.
Auto Flag Admin Emails
It’s not all about deleting emails; I also want to emphasize emails when needed. My admin likes to send “wall of text” emails with non-descriptive subject lines. Sometimes there are action items buried in those emails, so I have to go spelunking through lines of text to discover them. I leave these emails to process manually, and I have the time to do that because of the email rules above.
Additionally, if an administrator in my building sends an email directly to me (not as part of the teacher distribution list), I have this rule to flag that email, so it gets priority during my next email processing time.
I hope these email rules help bring a new mentality to your work email and allow you to focus on high impact tasks during your day. Your students deserve the best of what you can create, and you deserve to have all of your attention when creating that work for students.
If these rules inspired you, or you want some help making your own, post your work/questions in the comments.