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. 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
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. ↩