Fun with email

Every day at work, I set myself one solid task to complete during the day. I always have interruptions and unexpected things come up, plus reference desk time and meetings, but no matter what, at least I get one thing done per day. I don’t ever (well, hardly ever) have to go home with the feeling that I got nothing done.

Yesterday, my task was to clean up my email inboxes.

When I first interviewed to work at the college, I was up for a position as the branch librarian at our one branch campus library. (We have five branches, but only one has a library.) Before the formal interview, I met with the woman that I would be replacing, who was moving on to take a library director position in another state. I asked her what she did during a typical day. She said, “Mostly check email.”

At the time, I couldn’t imagine that email could ever take more than about fifteen minutes a day. (Which left me wondering what she did the rest of the time.) Now, I kind of see what she was talking about. (But only kind of.)

I get tons of email. And I’m just talking about my work email here, not my Gmail and my other personal account. Most of it is trash. I get messages from publishers, from database vendors, and from authors wanting me to preview and/or buy stuff. I get notices of college-wide stuff that may or may not involve me. I get suggestions for reading from our other librarians (if one of us finds something that relates to the job, we often forward it to all the others).  Since I take an occasional class from Florida State for continuing ed purposes, I get notices from them every time there is a crime on campus or every time they need to clear parking lots for a football game. I get requests for proposals from conferences looking for speakers. I get invitations to submit articles to journals. I get research questions from students. I get research questions from faculty. I get requests from faculty to come to their classrooms. I get notices of webinars from several different agencies. I get notices of meetings I have to go to. I get a lot of stuff of various sorts from the Florida Library Association. And, every time someone needs a substitute on our statewide online reference service desk, I get the email request.

Needless to say, most of this is immediately deletable. The student questions come first, and the faculty questions come second. After that comes everything else. I do attend a good many webinars, so I’m glad to get those notices. (Since we have no money in our budget for travel for professional development, free webinars are a great way to keep up.) But everything else can go.

I have seen many productivity experts say that you should only check email at a designated time every day. I can’t do that. If a student has a research question, it’s because they’re working on their paper RIGHT NOW. Getting back to them at the end of the day is only going to increase their stress.  If a faculty member has a request, I want to let them know immediately that I got it and I’m going to get to work on it. If there’s something going on at the college that I need to know about, sometimes it’s happening right at that time. So waiting until the end of the day is not possible.

But I do delete as I go, so everything that can be immediately discarded, is.

My boss hasn’t gotten her email under control. Right before the break she had over 2000 in her inbox. The most I’ve ever had is around 300. When I got back from break, I had around 150.

So yesterday I dug in, either deleting things past their time frame or moving everything else into its appropriate folder. Now I have 10, and I can see them all at once without even scrolling down.

Now the goal is to keep it that way, so that I don’t have to have another “clean up email” task day.

And now I have to get started on today’s task. Which has nothing to do with email, fortunately. 🙂


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