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The E-mail Problem…

hi again – Meredith here.

Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve got a little problem with e-mail. Firstly, I get tonnes of it. Lots of it includes nice notes from friends and family, and invitations and notifications about interesting going-ons. But lots of it is generic stuff due to being signed up for various lists, etc.

Secondly, the major problem with e-mail is that it answering it FEELS productive — only it isn’t. That’s because even though you’re putting in hours at your computer, you aren’t actually accomplishing any of your actual work.  You’re just shuffling data around, trying to beat back the demands, doing your best to stay on top of things.

The problem for me (and I know I’m not alone) is because e-mail can sometimes involve pleasure (ie. invitations to do things, nice notes from friends, emails to let you know you’ve won big scholarships or to ask you for your expertise on an issue… though to be fair there are way less of the latter), I can convince myself that I need to compulsively check it ALL DAY LONG, especially if I’m looking to procrastinate.

And because the inbox keeps getting impossibly overstuffed, I sometimes find myself justifying spending the morning sorting through it, when I know I should really be writing an article or (gulp!) a thesis project.

That’s why I was interested to see this article in the Globe and Mail earlier this week. Written by Harvey Schachter, the article explores a new ‘e-mail charter’ currently making the rounds. Initiated by a couple of the brains involved in the TED Talks, the charter involves 10 easy-to-implement ideas for lightening everyone’s e-mail workload.

The charter’s 10 ideas range from ‘respect the recipient’s time’ (ie. write your email in such a way that it minimizes the time it will take the recipient to respond – even if it takes more time at your end), to ‘Slash Those Surplus CCs’ (because by adding recipients, you multiply response time and often end up with people hitting ‘reply all’, encumbering your inbox with even more stuff).

The 10th item on the charter is ‘disconnect’ — asking that we all spend less time on e-mail so that we all get less e-mail. It makes the very wise-sounding suggestion that we try spending half our workday not looking at email (or going online at all — which sounds wonderful and also scary), or committing yourself to e-mail-free weekends (which also sounds nice, but hard for someone like me who doesn’t have a cellphone and who often finds out about what’s going on through e-mail).

A couple of my friends (one who is in the middle of writing his PhD comprehensive exams, and another who is determined to get his PhD done this year) have been singing the praises of spending the workday (say, 9-5-ish) off-line… or at the very least, only checking in at lunch and at other designated break points through the day. As I try and get my big final paper written, it’s a principal I think I need to try and adapt… even when I know my inbox may contain the e-mail message that could change my life…

(…so maybe I’ll just take a quick look before I get down to work…)

If you’re interested, the complete e-mail charter is here: http://emailcharter.org/

Happy Weekending!

Posted in SGS Blog 2010-2011, Student Perspective

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