eMail Trouble

eMail Trouble

Managing the online communications structure for a school district is hard. Managing your own personal email inbox? Probably harder. There are ways to deal besides handing it off to an assistant.

Michael Linenberger, author of Master Your Workday Now!: Proven Strategies to Control Chaos, Create Outcomes, & Connect Your Work to Who You Really Are (New Academy Publishers, 2010) and Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook, 3rd edition (New Academy Publishers, 2011), specializes in organization. Here is a quick look at his tried-and-true philosophy for getting control of your Microsoft Outlook inbox. The strategy can be applied to most email clients.

Reconfigure the Task Manager

Linenberger estimates that only five percent of Outlook users consistently use the Task Manager. “People give up on it quickly because it’s configured poorly,” he says. “It’s based on 50-year old principles of task management that no longer apply.”

Out of the box, Outlook puts the oldest tasks at the top of list in bright red, but Linenberger has a simple way to apply a methodology that’s more in line with the way we work today.

“I assert that 80 to 90 percent of our new work these days comes in through email,” he says. “Our inbox is not designed to be a task-management system but that’s what we use it for. Email doesn’t have the tools to manage, prioritize, delegate, assign, or date them, which is what we need. All it has is a flag, which isn’t enough.

“We keep emails of tasks we hope to get to, which locks your inbox. We can’t file or throw it away because we’re afraid we’ll lose it. The titles of emails rarely have anything to do with the tasks, so we have to open each email and reread it, which is horribly ineffective.”

So what should you do?

Linenberger divides incoming emails into one of three urgency zones:

1 Critical Now: It must be handled today. There can be no more than five and they should be checked continually, e.g., once an hour.

2 Opportunity Now: Maybe do today, but must be handled within 10 days. These should be kept to 20 and checked at least once a day).

3 Over the Horizon: These items can wait 10 days or longer. Can contain an unlimited amount and must be checked once a week.

He converts each email into a task and files it into the proper zone. “When you do this, your inbox becomes tension- free. All the action requests are in your task system and you can file away your inbox and it becomes clean.”

For more information on Linenberger’s system, watch the Getting Started video on his Web site, take a webinar, or check out one of his books.

School CIO Advisors speak out

“I do my ‘one-touch rule.’ I try to ‘touch’ the email only once: open it, deal with it, file it or delete it. I also cc myself on any responses that I want a record of and delete the original.”

—Jennifer Harriton-Wilson, director of special, remedial, and assessment services & CIO, Haldane (NY) Central School District

School CIO Advisors speak out

“Reading email is a scheduled activity in the day. Because of how it is often used, it may take two or three times during the day. Because many people try to use email like a telephone call (‘Hey, I need a reply NOW!’) or they use text messaging to imply an immediate need, you need to help people understand how you manage communications. Also, remember where you work. Many of your important clients are teachers and principals who are not sitting at their desk waiting with bated breath for a communication from you.”

—Gordon Dahlby, educational consultant for leadership in policy, planning and practice

“My best survival technique is to make very generous use of the applying filters, not just to specific email addresses, but to email domains. Filters that put the email from domains directly into the trash.”

— Doug Johnson, director of media and technology, Mankato (MN) Area Public Schools

School CIO Advisors speak out

“I have several different email accounts, which helps to manage things. I can work on what I want to work on from a separate email account—for example, for the college I teach for work, for personal email, shopping, and so on.”

—Nancy Caramanico, instructional technology specialist and School CIO blogger

* Try not to fall more than one day behind.
* Use follow-up flags to check request status.
* Keep attachments on email string; use forward instead of reply.
* Keep emails very short.
* Use IM if information can be provided.
* Try to use as few attachments as possible; link to documents.

—Deborah Karcher, CIO, Miami-Dade County (FL) Public Schools

SCHOOL CIO By the numbers

Average number of emails our School CIO Advisors receive each day

Lowest number of emails received each day by a School CIO Advisor

Highest number of emails received each day by a School CIO Advisor