Setting Boundaries and Staying Productive

One of the biggest struggles I am hearing from my teachers right now is how overhwelmed they are with the number of emails and messages they receive on a daily basis. Emails from administration, colleagues, families and students fill up their inbox on a daily basis. On top of that, we have a messaging app that allows parents to essentially text teachers throughout the day.

During distance learning last spring, everyone started increasing the number of messages they sent electronically. Since we weren’t in the building, we couldn’t just stop by someone’s classroom to have a chat. It almost all went through email. It got to be a lot and often teachers and staff felt like they had to be “on” all the time because the school community was now messaging each other at all hours of the day and night.

I felt it in the beginning, too. I felt like I was spending 24 hours a day looking at my computer screen and responding to emails. I wasn’t sleeping well and it was exhausting. Eventually, I had to take a step back. While I wasn’t always closing my computer by 3:30 every day, I was definitely closing it by 5 or 6. It helped immensely.

Now we are in hybrid learning. We’re all still in the habit of sending tons of emails and messages (families included). But now we have kids in front of us from 8:00 to 3:00. We can’t drop everything and respond in real time the way we did when we were all at home in our pajama pants.

Email can be a HUGE time suck if we let it. I know I’m incredibly guilty of leaving my email open all day long and dealing with new messages as they come in. I have my work email on my cell phone and I’m always checking it throughout the day and night. In fact, it’s often the first thing I see after my alarm in the morning and the last thing I see at night.

But that needs to stop. We think by checking email frequently, we avoid the huge pileup at the end of the day. Productivity experts say you should check email far less than we do. We think we’re saving time by responding in real time, when in fact, frequent checking actually wastes more time than it saves (See here).

There are two other tricky parts of email at work: 1) the more you send, the more you get and 2) when you respond immediately, you set the tone for the future.

The first part is easy. If I send an email to five staff members, I will be expecting 5 emails back from that message. And if I have a particularly heavy email day, I can expect dozens of emails to fill my inbox when I return. My solution here is to stop by classrooms when I can or set up a quick Zoom chat to avoid sending so many emails. Another solution is to consolidate the info in a weekly (or perhaps daily if need be) email that goes to your staff with relevant information.

The second part isn’t hard to figure out but it’s sometimes difficult in practice. When we respond to messages immediately or after hours, we teach those we communicate with that we are always available. But that’s not realistic, especially this year with all of the extra demands being placed on us in schools. Our school handbook says we have 24-48 hours to respond to parent communications. But because we so often send off a quick reply, parents now become frustrated if they don’t hear back immediately.

This is where boundaries come in. It is perfectly acceptable (and honestly, necessary) to set limits to when and how people can reach you. Teachers and other school staff are not “on call.” We do not need to be available 24-7. That said, if you are going to change your communication protocols, it’s a good idea to give people a heads up first so they don’t feel like they are suddenly being ignored.

So what’s my plan to tackle this? I’m kicking around a few ideas around goals for productivity and boundaries:

  1. Stop checking email after work. I have provided my cell phone number to my teachers if there is a genuine emergency. Otherwise, send me an email and I’ll read it in the morning.
  2. Stop sending emails after hours and on weekends. Gmail has a “schedule send” button. If I feel the need to get caught up after work hours, that’s on me and my staff shouldn’t be expected to do the same simply because I am. I will use the “schedule send” button if I’m working outside school hours so I’m not setting the example that working late is the expectation. It starts with me.
  3. Set times for checking email. I need to set up my schedule around what I need to do and not let what comes into my inbox dictate my day. I like to check email first thing in the morning and before I leave for the day. It feels good to have an empty inbox when I walk out. I may also consider adding a 3rd time around lunch if the end of day session starts stretching out too long.

How do you manage all of your emails and stay productive?

Who Are You and Why Are You Emailing Me?

This is a common question I ask myself several times a week.  While I have met many new faces in the district, there are still several I haven’t yet met.  So, when I get a request for help and the only identifying information is the person’s name, I need a little more information.  Where are you located?  What department do you work in?  What age are your students? Are you a teacher, paraprofessional, secretary, or something else entirely?

Now imagine you are a parent, particularly one with multiple children.  Now imagine they’re all in middle or high school and they have several teachers at the same time.  You send an email saying they did a great job on a test, or maybe that you’re concerned about their grade.  But they have no idea what class you teach because they can’t keep all their kids’ teachers straight.

A solution?  Create an email signature!  It’s an easy way for anyone receiving your email to know who you are and what you do.  It takes just a couple of minutes – see below!

Schedule Your Email With Boomerang!

In case you haven’t figured out yet, I am all about any technology that makes my life better or easier.  Isn’t that the point, anyway?  Well, not long ago I wrote about one solution for cleaning up your email inbox (Unroll.Me – read that post here!) and today I have another handy tool for making your email life easier – Boomerang!

What is it?  Boomerang is an extension that you can add to your Gmail or Google Apps account.

What does it do?  Boomerang allows you to have better control over your email.  The two main tools I use are Send Later and Reminders.

Send Later  Have you ever needed to send an email, but not right now?  Maybe you want to get a little work done on a Saturday morning but you don’t want to send the email until Monday morning?  Or maybe you know an email reminder for an event needs to go out in a few weeks but you want to write it up now so you won’t forget?  Sure, you could just set a reminder and write that email later, but with Boomerang you can choose!   You can choose to send your email in one hour or in one month.  You can also specify a date and time for your email to be sent.

Boomerang

Reminders  Sometimes I find myself dealing with some kind of issue that really needs some follow up.  In the past, I’d just keep the email in my inbox; maybe I’d star it in Gmail or maybe I’d set some calendar reminder to deal with it.  Boomerang reminders allow you to select an email conversation and set a date and time for it to return to your inbox when you’re ready to deal with it.  You can even specify that it only returns to your inbox if nobody responds.  I use that feature quite a bit.

Cost  For the most part, Boomerang is free.  You can use Boomerang up to ten times a month for free (this includes Send Laters and Reminders).  This has been more than enough for my personal use.  If you’re an email heavy hitter and you really love it, they also have monthly plans for greater usage.

Want to check it out?  Click this link here to visit Boomerang’s site, install Boomerang for Gmail or get more information.

You’ve Got (Less) Mail!

I don’t know about you, but I hate junk mail, both in my mailbox and my email inbox.  Dealing with paper junk mail is pretty easy.  I’ve filled out some of those online things that claim to cut down on the amount you receive and that helped a little bit, but what really helped the most is not letting it come in the house.  Our mailbox is not attached to our house, so when I come home each day, I pull up to the mailbox, grab the mail and bring it with me into the garage.  From there, everything that’s junk goes immediately into the recycling bin and only the important things come into the house.  Done!  No more mail piling up on the kitchen counter only to be thrown away days or weeks later.

But what about email?  At one point not long ago, I would check my email in the morning to see 20 or more new messages, almost all of them junk.  I knew I could unsubscribe to the mailing lists, but that takes so much time and sometimes it doesn’t stick.  So, I just kept deleting and deleting as they came in.  Working harder, not smarter.

Well, not anymore!  Just like with my paper junk mail, the best way to tackle digital junk mail is to keep it from coming into your inbox in the first place!  Enter…..Unroll.Me!

Unroll.Me

What does it do?  It lets me decide with just a few clicks which emails I still want to see and which I don’t.  And I can change those settings at any time as my preferences change.

To get started, visit the website and enter your email.  From there, it will show you what subscriptions you already have.  At this point, you have 3 options:

  1. Keep the messages in your inbox
  2. Add to your rollup (more on this in a bit)
  3. Unsubscribe

Option 1 and option 3 are pretty easy to figure out, but here’s the deal with the rollup.  If there are messages you think you might still want to access but not see individually every single time they come in, add them to the rollup.  Now you will get ONE email per day from Unroll.Me with your daily rollup.  It will basically be a collection of those emails you might like to see but don’t want clogging up your inbox. The rollup is a nice option if you aren’t sure if you’re ready to fully unsubscribe yet.  I actually found that I was rolling up a lot of messages when I started that I have now unsubscribed to because I found I didn’t miss them!  Again, any time you want to change your preferences, simply go back to Unroll.Me’s website (or click the link in your daily rollup message) and change them!  How’s that for working smarter?

I now have Unroll.Me set up on all of my email accounts and it’s saving me loads of time.  If you find yourself buried under piles of digital email clutter, check it out!