Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Productivity for Academic Librarians and Researchers: Session 3 - Email

Session 3 of the Year of Productivity programme looks at email, and the different ways this can be managed. Like many people I get quite a lot of emails every day and it becomes important to manage them so that they don’t take over my life.

1. The author of the Getting Things Done: My Experiences using GTD” blog has a post entitled “Evolution of my email setup”. Read this article and write a short accounting of how you would describe your email evolution. Are you a slave to your inbox?
My own ‘email evolution’ is fairly similar to the author’s in some ways: I started with just one, rarely-used email account when I was a teenager, and over the years I have ended up with four accounts that are all much more heavily used these days. This is particularly true of my work account: I've never been bombarded with emails in any of my jobs, but I get many more in my current role than I ever used to. I do tend to check my inbox whenever an email comes in: partly out of curiosity and partly in case it is urgent. Twice a week I am on Helpdesk, and I need to keep a close eye on this email account at these times to ensure I keep up with any service requests.

I was surprised to read that the author of the article referenced above prints out emails in order to keep a hard copy and get rid of the electronic mail message. I don’t see the point of this myself, as it strikes me as a waste of paper. The idea of filing and organising emails, and acting on important ones straight away, do however seem like good ideas to me.

2. Investigate the tutorials / help sections for your particular email system. I've provided links to several systems in the Selected Reading section below. Spend a little time and experiment with creating a filter for a category of emails that you want to read but don’t want to interrupt you every day when they arrive. Add an appointment to your calendar to remind you to review that filtered folder at another specified time.
At work I use Groupwise, and though I had a quick look at some help resources I’m not convinced they will help me organise my email. I haven’t signed up to any mailing lists with this account: any emails I receive need to be looked at, if not straight away then fairly soon, and I’d prefer all my emails to go straight into an inbox.

My personal accounts are another matter, but again I don’t like the idea of new emails going anywhere but my inbox. I would rather use folders to store emails I've already looked at and want to keep. I’m the sort of person who can’t stand to have an unread email in their account, so filters would be no good for me!

3. Explore the Inbox Zero resources. Is Merlin Mann’s technique something you would like to try? Think about ways to chunk the initial setup process to make it more doable for you and your email.
I’m not sure if the entire Inbox Zero technique would work for me – partly because downloadable programs won’t work on my work email, and I am too concerned about not leaving any emails unread to be happy about setting up a filter to check once or twice a week. Frankly, I don’t get enough email to need to do this. However, there are some interesting points raised, such as dealing with email as soon as it comes in, unsubscribing from unwanted mailing lists, and using folders in order to find information quickly.

4. Share! What helpful hints, techniques, or articles/blog posts would you like to share with the rest of us?
I’m sure there are advantages to having all your email go to one inbox, but I prefer using several. At work we use Groupwise, and I have three personal email accounts: Gmail for professional and career-related stuff; Hotmail for personal stuff; and Yahoo for mailing lists and sign-ups that I don’t want cluttering up my Hotmail. This system lets me focus on work during work hours and ignore it in my free time, and I can focus on the important personal stuff in Hotmail without bothering with all the newsletters that clog up my Yahoo inbox (but which I don’t want to get rid of completely).

At work, I leave emails in my inbox until I have acted upon them. If my inbox gets too cluttered, that’s a sign I need to focus more on tasks that need completion. Afterwards, if they need to be kept, the emails go into a folder related to their subject. This system works well for me, but it might be too simple for someone who gets a hundred emails a day.

I like the idea of leaving the first hour of the day to work on important tasks, not checking email until after this time is up. I've been trying this for the last week and find I do get more done when I can get in and get straight down to work.

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