Useful information

3.8 Email

You probably have a love-hate relationship with email. It is so useful and you wonder how the world ever lived without it, but at the same time, you wish you were not so popular! The problem with email is that you never know what will be in an email: it could be some junk/spam/information (some of which may be of interest as you want to be aware of that great sale at your favourite bookstore or the new issue of a journal), news from family and friends, a student asking for a reference letter, your Dean asking for your hiring plan so that she can reply to the Vice-President Academic and Provost next week… With email, you are not in control. If you let email plan your day, you will be at the mercy of others. There are a few things which you need to do:

  • Turn off notifications of new emails (audio and visual) – these are a distraction when you are working on another task.
  • Access email only when you want – some gurus suggest accessing emails only a few times a day (e.g., sometime in the morning – not first thing, see next entry – after lunch and before end of day) and even shut Outlook down when you are not using it.
  • Do not look at your email as your first task of the day – you will lose control of your day, an ‘emergency’ (which may resolve itself if you don’t get involved) will dictate your next few hours; if it’s really urgent, they’ll come to you some other way.
  • Set the expectation that you will not respond within 15 minutes, in the evening or at the weekend – responding within a 48-hour window is acceptable. If you expect to take longer to answer, then you should let the sender know (for example, “Thank you for your email. In order to respond, I must do some more research. I expect to be able to get back to you by…”). You do NOT have to respond out of working hours (evenings, weekends and holidays). You are not running an ER.
  •  As soon as you take the Chair position, for all matters to do with the department, move away from your personal email to a position email - two reasons: 1) institutional memory – the decisions taken by the chair are not personal ones and you should have a trace of activities from your predecessors and you should leave one for your successors; 2) someone else can monitor the email without getting into your personal email.
  • If talking would be easier, pick up the phone or go see the person – avoid sending an email.
  • Only touch an email once – implement the 4Ds of email: Do (if it takes less than 2 minutes, be it reply, simply reading for information, or filing away in a folder without reading), Delete (if it does not concern you, delete it, go ahead, you can do it!), Delegate (if someone else should be dealing with this, pass it along; if you are accountable for it, make sure you follow up), and Defer (if the task will take longer than a couple of minutes, block some time in your schedule to work on it – use the ‘create an appointment from this message’ button). 
  • Etiquette of email – here are a few golden rules for you to consider and implement.
    • Before sending, ask yourself whether the addressee requires the information. Send or copy other only on a need to know basis.
    • Be clear in your subject line, simple and descriptive.
    • Indicate to your readers whether an action is required or if it is for information only.
    • If you put someone in c.c., then understand that it’s for their information only. If I’m not included in the “to” list, nothing is required of me.
    • Never hit Reply and send a message that has nothing to do with the previous one. Change the subject as soon as the thread of the email changes.
    • Avoid using REPLY-ALL.
    • Avoid large distribution lists.
    • Do not use email for an urgent matter (less than two hours).
    • Never reply to an email when you are angry or to announce bad news. 
    • Refrain from sending one liners, e.g. thank you, OK. Feel free to include ‘no reply necessary’ at the top of an email when you don’t expect a response.
    • Keep it short and to the point. One shouldn't have to wade through paragraphs to figure out what you’re asking.
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