I think it’s safe to say a good number of us struggle with the
large amount considerable volume overwhelming flood of email.
And many of us have implemented solutions, and there’s been lots of discussion about how to stem the tide that washes over us almost daily (see this post & the comments over on Dynamic Ecology). But ultimately, the problem starts with each of us as individuals, and the volume of email we send, and when we send it. For those of us who have staff, students, or other trainees, the latter can often send a not-so-subtle message.
With near-constant connectivity comes an expectation of immediate responses. Many of us have email on our phones, or spend most of our working day sitting at a computer with our email client/web page open, where it bings and chimes with each incoming message. Two years ago, I started tracking the outgoing volume of email I generated, and it’s somewhere between 6500-7500 messages a year. And I don’t teach or have student queries.
I’ve also worked in places where I’ve received emails from managers (from my own boss right up to their boss’s boss’s boss) not just outside work hours, but at 10pm, or on weekends. In a sense, this is understandable: it’s quiet time when there are no expectations on them, so they catch up on email. I’ve done it, as I suspect most researchers and managers have. But the not-so-subtle implication is “I’m working this extra time, and so you should be, too”, or at least that work outside the paid contracted hours is necessary to do one’s job.
So to try and combat this, I’ve implemented two strategies, one for me, and one for the people I work with.
1. I don’t respond to work email outside typical work hours
Because I supervise students in different time zones, have managed field staff, and do have some other on-call responsibilities that require me to be contactable, I do have email on my phone, and do check it outside work hours, but unless it’s something that absolutely can’t wait until the next day (or Monday if on a weekend), I read it and deal with it later. Over time, this ingrains the expectation that I’m not instantly contactable outside work hours for work things.
2. I use the “Delay Delivery” function outside work hours
Like I said above, sometimes I do sit down on the weekend with my pot of tea and bash through a bunch of emails that have backed up over the last <period of time>. But there’s a fancy (and easy) tool in Outlook called Delay Delivery that makes sure I’m not creating unsustainable and unrealistic expectations on those I’m emailing.
This is the 3-click solution I mentioned in the title.
This is a feature of Microsoft Outlook, and so far I haven’t seen an equivalent solution for Apple’s Mail, or email sent from a phone. There is a Gmail extension called Boomerang, though. Here’s how it works.
First, write your email/response as usual:
Second, click on the Options tab (click #1), and near the right, click on “Delay Delivery” (click #2).
And lastly, in the Delivery Options section, you can set the time when Outlook delivers the email in the “Do not deliver before” field, by setting the date & time. Click Close (click #3) and you’re done.
The only downside I’ve found is that your computer has to be connected and Outlook open in order to send messages at the defined time, and as I said above, I’m not sure this functionality transfers to other email clients.
It might seem like a small thing, or maybe a giant pain, but it’s a simple solution to help us all walk the walk of improving work-life balance, particularly of those we supervise or manage.
UPDATE! Ben Britton pointed me to this VBA code & post of his that will automatically delay delivery!