Tips for managing email as an academic

After a conference most academics probably face a fairly full inbox. In this post I share a few tips I’ve found helpful with managing my email. I am by no means an expert, but I’m happy with some of the strategies I use, which I share below.

Inbox zero

The idea of inbox zero is exactly what it suggests – once you process your email, ideally you should have ZERO emails left in your inbox. Following the “getting things done” system, I try to either handle an email immediately (if I can delete it or if I can reply quickly), or put it on my todo list for later (if I need to look things up first, can’t take action immediately, etc). Once an email is on my todo list, I archive it, so it’s not just sitting there staring at me. I can’t imagine how stressed I would be without this strategy.

I have a few things to improve though. A few emails do not fit into either category, for example if I read my email on the phone, but need to use my laptop to reply. This is not helpful since I am revisiting this email several times, instead of once.

Send later

I try not to email on evenings and weekends. The goal of this is to enforce boundaries on my work time and manage expectations of others, both with regards to when they can expect to reach me, and what I expect of them. I appreciate that people might have different working hours. Therefore, when I do email outside of my normal hours, I usually schedule the email to be sent later. I use the Streak plugin for Gmail, but there are others, like Boomerang, and Outlook has delayed sending functionality as well.

Snippets

Some of the emails I send are very similar to each other, for example with information about student positions. To avoid typing the same information over and over, I use the Snippets feature for Streak. The same functionality is possible with Canned Responses by Gmail, but I like the user interface of Streak more.

Skip inbox

For mail that’s not urgent to read, I have filters that skip the inbox, and deliver it to a folder I call “Snooze”. For me these are typically newsletters and announcements that are not personally addressed to me.

Although this type of functionality is offered by Gmail with automatically labeling emails, I prefer to define my own rules of what is important or not. This means that there is an initial time investment, every time I receive a newsletter, to create a filter for it.

Other tips?

These are the main strategies I use, but I would love to hear more of what has worked for other people – let me know in the comments below or on Twitter!

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