Emails can be a neverending to do list. In a way, it's like housework: There's always something to do and it's undervalued.
Don't get me wrong - I love email because it's a to do list too. But sometimes it gets the better of me. I spend my mornings going through my email, reacting to people instead of doing the work that I need to implement to proactively get somewhere. Getting stuck in my inbox is the perfect way of feeling productive but at the end of the day not being able to put my finger on what I concretely did.
In that vein, I've used a lot of tools over the years - to give me digests of my email, etc. etc. But what's really helped me on a practical level is scheduling my emails. In no particular order, here's some of the things that I like about it.
Remove ping-pong emails
I like talking to people, but ping-pong emails are exhausting. They keep me stuck in my inbox and make me keep my inbox open. I schedule my emails so that if somebody responds two seconds after, I'm already gone doing something else.
I used to have a signature that indicated the following
I might respond outside of work hours, and I have no expectation to receive a reply outside of yours.
I really liked it. But nonetheless, if I send an email at 2am it raises some eyebrows. It's always a bad idea to send emails after 11pm regardless.
Of course it could be timezone differences, and you can't absolutely respect worktimes in all situations.
But hey, it's nice to just email during semi-regular work hours, so that other people don't even have to consider (not) replying outside of theirs.
So many of my emails could be sent today, but only are relevant to the reader tomorrow, next week, or whenever. Sending something at the time it's relevant to them, makes them more likely to reply, I can imagine.
And honestly, if I send an email on Friday, it's also going to be buried by the time they open it on Monday. So why not send it on Monday?
Off my to do list, not (yet) onto yours
I love finishing things, and I get that people want to get things off their plate. But with emails, the reciprocal nature means getting something off your plate pushes it onto somebody else's.
Take for example academics' pre-holiday rush — let's get all those emails sent so you don't have to worry about them over the holidays! And then you get the dump of other people doing the same to you.
So schedule emails to get them off your list, and only put them on other people's plate when they're back. It's nice to be considerate to each other.
Academics still love email. As a trained academic, I do too - it's my to do list. It's my communication channel of choice. It's my archive.
But I need to set boundaries to not let email become too controlling. These are some of my reflections of being a pretty enthusiastic user still. There's a lot more to like about email!