Basics — Managing Email…

imageEach year the amount of email receive and send seems to increase. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to efficiently work through email so I’m using my time most efficiently.  Here’s the system that I’m using now.  It’s mostly borrowed from the inbox zero system that David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done.

Folder Setup:

First, you need these few folders:

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When you receive a message, first ask, “What is this?” and then, “What is the next action on this?” 

You will find quickly that your best friend is the delete key. If there is an action on the email and you can do it in under 2 minutes, get it done.  If not, put it in Next Actions. 

Here’s how you use the rest of these folders:

Archives –> I received an email from a teacher that I might want to search for and use as a resource someday, but I don’t need it right now – or – I have an action that is complete, but I want to keep holding on to it. 

Next Actions –> Your inbox should not be the folder you are working from as you can quickly become distracted by new messages.  If you get a message that will take more than 2 minutes to complete, just put it in Next Actions until you finish processing your inbox.  Then work form Next Actions.

Waiting For –> This is an advanced folder.  If you’re working on a project or delegate a task to someone, put the email in your waiting for folder so you know you are waiting for a response.

That’s it for now.  I’ve found these techniques helpful.  I still struggle to manage all of my email, but having a system keeps me honest about the amount of time it takes to process email and if I have too much on my plate at any one time.

Oh, last thing… For adults, if you get 100 emails a day, you probably want to block out 1 – 1.5 hours each day to get through them.  No small percentage of your day should be used managing email. 

Balancing Technology Change with School Change

I’ve spent a great deal of time over my past 10 years as a Technology Director implementing new technologies that automate data systems (multiple student information systems, admissions, development, and business office systems), allow easier communication (e-mail), and help teachers teach and students learn (blogs, wikis, moodle and other communications tools).

We use FirstClass as our e-mail server and over the past couple of years, we have had some big gripes with FirstClass.  They have released server updates with big bugs and their support leaves much to be desired.  So earlier on this year we began to evaluate different communications platforms.  We started by defining criteria that we would use to evaluate each platforms.  Then we installed or tested Google Apps for Schools, Microsoft Live, Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange 2007 .  We’re a Microsoft school and the only system that fit a majority of the criterion was Microsoft Exchange 2007.

So we went to user testing.  Most users who tested Exchange and Outlook gave us very positive feedback.  I’ve spoken to multiple Network Admins and Directors of Technology who give good reviews to Outlook.  I have evaluated it myself and really prefer its user interface to that of FirstClass.

But, with all of those positives, I still ask: What are the benefits of changing systems?  What are the benefits to asking 200 faculty and staff and 400 students to learn a new system that pretty much does the same thing they were doing on FirstClass?  The send and receive e-mail.  That’s what most people use e-mail for, right?

Yes, there will be a many administrators and staff who will have a system that makes their lives more convenient.  There may be some teachers who use the document sharing and collaboration tools built into Exchange 2007.  The Microsoft Office integration is much tighter and our Student Information System had an e-mail class roster link that will actually work correctly.  Web site links from e-mail will work correctly and we won’t have to be deleting and reconfiguring FirstClass folders that have become corrupted.  There is easier support for administrator, faculty and student handheld devices.

But does this list tip the scale?

What about the time it’s going to take to train all of the faculty, staff and students to use this new system?

It this technology for technology sake, even with the improvements we will see?

I wonder this about many of the changes that are coming down the pike such as Windows Vista and Office 2007.

I see all of the great things that I could be doing with faculty next fall to integrate technology into the curriculum at our school and then realize that changing to Exchange might delay them.  Or it might make thing easier.  Is it worth it?

I know you can’t answer this question, but it’s the one won’t get out of my head right now.

I yearn to think more about teaching and learning with technology and find myself hung up on seemingly surface level decisions about our e-mail system.  I’m definitely feeling a bit frustrated.

Thanks for listening.  I’ll update you once we make a decision.

Photo from: http://flickr.com/photos/priddy/3507724/