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Email Extremism

Pulled in many directions…

Fascinating report from WBUR that links to two separate articles about emails in the workplace. Inspired by Principal Gerry Brooks, I wrote my own take on the content of emails not too long ago, and this ties in with the productivity, or lack thereof, with emails.

From the outset, I’ll say that though I don’t feel any grand accomplishment in compiling emails by name and then hitting the delete key en masse, I do sometimes need this mindless activity. Every minute of our waking hours shouldn’t be constructed as ‘productive.’ To me that is such a Puritan-Western-worker-bee mindset. However, these studies offer important ideas around the time thievery of email, and caution us all in terms of what is productive and counter-productive. Communication and its value is subjective, however: what we send in those emails is just as important as how much time they take. Would banning emails in a school for a time period help with both teacher and student productivity, and more importantly: would it help with creativity and communication? Is it even feasible to consider this?

From the article, ‘Some Companies Are Banning Email and Getting More Done’ by David Burkus

They continued the “no-email” condition for five days, continued to observe the participants, track their computer usage, and measure their heart rates. Participants began to communicate face-to-face and over the telephone more frequently. Most participants also spent significantly more time in each computer program that they used, suggesting that they were much less distracted. Judging by heart rates, participants also experienced significantly less stress when blocked from email. The participants even noticed this effect themselves. They consistently reported feeling more relaxed and focused, as well as more productive, with their email shut off than under normal working conditions.

I’ve been using Moodle, and now Canvas, for years. Canvas is superior to Moodle, and it is my wish we continue to use this platform. One of its advantages (and there is another side to this sword) is students can upload just about any assignment during a time frame, allowing teachers to monitor progress in real time. When it’s done, it’s done. It provides a message to them and there are no papers to lose or blame to be thrown. However, the disadvantage is if I close an assignment and give it a hard deadline, inevitably there will be students who can’t or didn’t turn it in, see the grade in the grading system, panic, and then email it to me. So now I have another digital record. I try to be patient about this. If I need to ‘open’ the assignment again, I will, but then I have stragglers who turn things in and have to explain I’ll do another grade sweep when it’s convenient for me. I try my best to keep within a two-week turn around. So, I am managed by the online management systems.

Next year I am considering a ban from students in emails, and banning or limiting myself in how often I check emails. But this cultural professional shift can’t reside from me, it must come from administration. We need our emails to be accessible at all times in a school environment for safety reasons. But there are some personal rules I can create to help my own definition of success or productivity.

Perhaps the right course of action is to consider the article’s advice, ‘Stop Doing Low-Value Work’ by Priscella Claman. 

Some of my personal rules may be:

*The emails I generate are short. If it’s longer than a paragraph, then I will just email the stakeholders when they’re available to talk in person.

*Make sure subject lines are informative and direct

*Check before school, after school, during planning. Period.

The tasks where I want to be more productive include student feedback. If emails and other ‘low-value tasks’ are taking away energy then I’m doing it wrong. Student feedback is key, and that’s the first order of business.

Any thoughts on this process or information? I’d love to hear them!