Email is the digital equivalent of weeds. You can spend all day dealing with it, but tomorrow there’ll be more. There is no trick I can give you to reduce the size of your inbox, but I do have a few strategies for minimizing the impact email has on your day[1]. The first is to follow the divide and conquer approach described in the first post in this series. But after you’ve done that here are 5 more quick strategies.

1. Always Be Closing

Unless you are trying to develop a connection with a student, try to end the conversation with every email. If you can end a conversation in one email rather than bouncing emails back and forth, you’ll save [bookoo] time.

2. Craft Your Emails & Syllabus Carefully

Some students ask you questions that are clearly covered on the syllabus, but a lot of students ask questions because what you said in class, written in a class-wide email, or printed on paper isn’t as clear as it could be. Always be thinking, “will students email me questions about this?” as you’re writing or saying anything. You can’t nip all of them in the bud, but a majority of them can be.

3. Not For Them, But With Them

Students like to ask you to do things for them, but you should say no. Instead offer to do it with them. The classic example of this is the question “will you read this 10 page paper and give me feedback before it’s due so I can know if I need to keep working on it?” This is a one way time transaction. When asked I reply, “I’d love to go over your work with you, but I prefer to do it face-to-face. Please feel free to stop by my office hours or let’s set up a meeting soon so we can really pour over your work.” This approach dramatically speeds up the process because you don’t have to write everything down. The old adage, “I can’t be working harder than you,” is the driving logic behind this approach.

4. Let Students Answer Each Other’s Questions

Give your students a way to answer their own questions online. Most LMSs have a discussion board feature that can easily be turned into backchannel for student interaction. My students use this all the time and I patrol it frequently to be on the look out for crises as they bubble up.

5. Use Keyboard Shortcuts

If you are using Gmail (and god love you if you aren’t/can’t) you owe it to yourself to learn the keyboard shortcuts. These make it a snap to reply to emails (just push r), archive an email (push e), move up or down your inbox using j and k, etc. It may take you a minute to learn to incorporate them into your workflow, but they are a huge time saver (especially [ and ] which archive and move up and down your inbox). Read this if you want some help on setting these up on your gmail account.


If you’re not careful, email can eat your lunch, but it doesn’t have too. You need to find the strategies that work best for you. These are just a few that have worked for me. I’d love to hear what works best for you in the comments below, on Facebook, Twitter, or send email to Nathan@SociologySource.com


  1. Just as a reminder, I have over 300 students every semester. So the advice I have may not apply if you teach at a smaller school or a school with much smaller class sizes. However, I think that all of us struggle to keep up with our inboxes.  ↩

Once you’ve separated monotonous busy work emails from requests for a human connection, you’re ready to plow through the former as quickly as possible. Boiler plating, or using prewritten email messages, can save you buckets of time. “But every email is a unique snowflake!” you may be thinking. Well here are just a few of the emails that I’ve boiler plated:

  • I’m sick did I miss anything important?
  • What’s my grade?
  • I’m Bobby’s dad what’s his grade (a FERPA request)
  • Can I email you my paper? (Answer: No)
  • THE PDF YOU GAVE US DOESN’T WORK
  • When are your office hours?

TextExpander

TextExpander (or it’s Windows doppelgänger Breezy) is a little program that allows you to write blurbs of text that will automagically plop into anything you write when you type a predefined string of text. TextExpander is always watching what you type just waiting for one of these strings. This is super handy for pieces of text you write all the time.

So for instance, I’m always typing the name of my university. So I’ve got it set up so that when I type ggsu it replaces these four letters with Georgia Southern University. TextExpander speeds up all of my emails because I script all of my salutations. To make it easy to remember I repeat a letter 3 times and use t for a generic thanks, p for professional sign offs, and f for a friendly goodbye.

When I type
When I type

TextExpander allows you to add more than just text. You can have returns, it can add into a prewritten block of text what you have copied in the clipboard, and for the super nerds, you can even run code within your blurb. Confused? Check out this video:

TextExpander can be purchased here and it’s PC equivalent can be purchased here. If you use both a PC and a Mac, it’s easy to synch the two up using Dropbox. Finally, if you have an iPhone or iPad TextExpander is available on both platforms.

Canned Emails:

If you’re institution uses Gmail as it’s email client, they love you. Almost all other email clients are absolutely awful for anyone who gets more than 5 emails a day. One of the best things about Gmail is the Labs feature where you can elect to turn on added functionality to your Gmail account. One of my favorites is a feature called Canned Emails that allows you to write boiler plate blocks of text, save them, and then plop them into an email from a drop down menu. It’s super slick.

Always be on the lookout for interactions that can be boiler platted. If you find yourself writing something more than once, try using Canned Emails and/or TextExpander. Remember, every moment you spend on interactions that don’t increase human connection, is an opportunity lost.

Have you ever got an email that looks like this:

I am always astonished at how poorly some students communicate. More often than I care to remember, students will send me an email that doesn’t include the very basic information that I would need to help them with what ever problem they are experiencing. I know that you too are experiencing this problem, so I created a website to make it really easy to help our students learn the basics of email.

I give you APoliteReminder.com. It is a simple, straightforward website that saves you and I from having to repeatedly educate students on the fundamentals of communication. Furthermore, it is a POLITE reminder. The text is written in a way that doesn’t denigrate students or try to embarrass them. We need to educate our students not alienate them.

So check out APoliteReminder.com. Tell your students about it. Tell your friends about it. And lets make the Internet a more effective medium to communicate with.