Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On Email

Technology can be wonderful and enhance our work and our lives.  Technology also has a negative side.  The ubiquity of our "connection" to each other on a personal and professional level can lead us to be somewhat disconnected from what is happening right in front of us, in the present moment (to be all Zen about it).

I am speaking specifically about the issue of our school/work email. After making various efforts to curtail my checking of school email off-hours over the years, and failing, I am several months in to a successful resolution: to limit my email-checking when not physically at school. "Limit" sounds vague and resolutions should be specific, but more on that in a minute.

Why do I think this resolution is important? Let's face it, our jobs can be wicked stressful (there's my Boston comin' out).  We have all kinds of demands placed on us.  It can burn you the heck out.  My experience in the past with checking email after hours at home is, I am sure, a common one.  Once in awhile, an email will be there that stresses me out..  Fact is, when at home, there is really nothing I can do about that email.  The problem will inevitably need to be resolved at school, via traditional face-to-face communication.  What is the sense in knowing and obsessing about it, which takes me away from what is going on around me: opportunities to relax, enjoy leisure pursuits, spend time with family and friends, write this blog.

Another reason that I am seeking to avoid checking email when not at work is that it is not really expected, and shouldn't be. I am a public school SLP.  This has several implications, one being that it is very, very, very rare that there is an emergency that involves me.  If there is, my school generally reaches me by phone.

I have discussed these ideas before, and my doing so again serves the function of a) further committing to myself that I will keep this resolution and b) resurfacing a concept I feel strongly about but which is buried under heaps of other blog posts.

So, what am I doing about being "on Email?"
  • When I arrive home from school each day I remind myself not to click that little FirstClass icon in the doc. I use self-talk such as "there will be plenty of time to check that when you arrive at school tomorrow morning."
  • I am getting to school a little earlier so that I have an empty and quiet place to respond to emails.
  • I am trying to keep email communications really short and to the point.  When I know an email is bringing up an Issue, I try to go talk to/call the person and if I can't at that time, I send a quick acknowledgement and a "let's chat later" kind of message. 
  • Leading from that point, we of all people should know that email and other written communication can lack the nonverbals that soften a difficult message, and it therefore should not be used to convey that kind of message.  It often just complicates the matter!
  • Using an email schedule during the school day is also a good plan.  I have a graduate student intern I will be observing part of the time, and it's tempting to be on email during her sessions.  It's better to be present and engaged so that she can get the most out of her placement experience, and to better service my students.
  • Email is still a great medium for asynchronous communication and sharing resources and tips with staff.  It's important to keep in mind that teachers are hugely busy and we shouldn't expect them to take too many "action items" from email; you'll usually need to facilitate and help them get done what needs to get done.  I feel lucky that I can at least go to the bathroom between sessions.  Classroom teachers can't!
  • I check email once over each (long) weekend.  This may seem to be a contradiction of what I have resolved to do, but I am a .8 employee and therefore am not at school on Fridays.  I don't want to be "off" email 3 days a week.  I do limit the length of the email session and use the "mark as unread" function to remind myself to deal with a few emails when I get back to work.
  • I have deleted the FirstClass app on my iPhone and iPad.  At first it seemed to be cool to have them, but it has only really led to no good. It's not really that easy to type email on those devices anyway!  And again, there is not and should not be any expectation that a public school SLP be accessible on email via your mobile device.

Here's what it looked like when I deleted my FirstClass email from my iPhone.  Jiggly mode, put to good use.

So what are my results so far?  Well, first of all, no one has complained about my response to email communications, and I don't feel like I am really falling behind, at least on things that email helps with! This is a new job for me and the transition has come with its expected share of anxiety, but I really think that this resolution has helped to remove myself from each work day and be present at home.  This is not to say that I am not doing work at home, doing research to plan sessions, which is one of those creative aspects of my job that I really enjoy (and why I write here). That is the kind of work that really never involves drama.

How about you? What strategies do you have to manage work email? Any tips?


  1. I have my school email on my phone, but I have a strict "no reply only flag" policy with myself. I work with high schoolers though who occasionally panic about one thing or the other and email at odd times, but if I need to reply, I need to go to a computer (to prevent emailing while out or with friends/family). This works for me so that I can delete unecessary emails that were sent to the whole school and not worry about them during my morning reply to emails time. Good luck!

  2. Good strategy- I think you raise an important point that those of us who receive emails from students needing help are in somewhat of a different boat! Thanks for the comment.

  3. Terrific! I am there... I disagree that our society now believes our profession is a 24/7 job. It's really quite insane. Office hours gives us a life which makes us stronger people and better teachers.

  4. I needed this, Sean. I am soooo bad with responding to texts, emails etc when I really shouldn't be. I'm a private SLP and sometimes I feel this is necessary but I am in the process of setting some more boundaries with clients. :) Thank you for the insightful post.

  5. I used to check First Class on the weekends and holidays too! And then when I opened my practice, I checked and responded to those emails on off hours as well. I found that by doing so I was sending the message that I was always available which is not a good thing in most instances. Setting boundaries with myself was vital to preserving my sanity!

  6. It's good that many school and collages using this method..That I like..!
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  7. Good resolution to make to check office mails in office only or limit to 1-2 time at house in weekend only. This has many benefit specially it help us to do our home work more with care.