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Tips for Teachers: Become the boss of your Inbox

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August 25, 2018

This week focus on more Tips for Teachers – Managing your emails.

Why you should have a school email account

Email has changed the way in which we communicate. And in schools specifically, giving both staff and learners email addresses is a gamechanger. But with it, it has brought the problem of how to keep up with your mailbox. I can still remember when the proposal to give all staff school email accounts was tabled in 2012. Very few staff members were enthusiastic about the idea, but for different reasons. In the one corner, we had the group who could not understand why they need ANOTHER email address, who will email them on it? In the other corner, we had the group that was worried that now everybody will email them.
Five years later and the second group was proven correct. Email in the school has now become one of the most significant channels of communication. But it also means that we have all gotten a second job without realising it, you are now your own secretary.

How to manage the volume of email

I recently attended a session by John French from the Communication Guru about managing emails, and it was one of the best 35 minutes I have spent in a while.

Here are some tips on managing your emails that John share, as well as a few others I have picked up over the years.

  • Be disciplined – keep up with your mail and archive an email the moment you have dealt with it and delete emails that refer to a once off event.
  • Try to keep maximum 7 read emails in your inbox, the rest should be dealt with and archived. Remember archive is your friend.
  • Set a limit to how much time and when you will work on emails. Try to set apart a decent amount of time and stick to it. Constantly checking your email waste your time.
  • Don’t waste time by writing to much; the standard reply should be approximately five sentences. But take time to add a proper salutation and end, first impressions count.
  • Prioritise essential emails/stakeholders – for example, emails from parents should be dealt with immediately
  • Identify high email offenders and deal with them – for instance, if the majority of your emails come from your department, maybe a weekly catch-up meeting will be more time efficient.
  • Manage expectations – consider a school policy on how long before you answer an email is acceptable. You could even add an automated response informing parents that you will get back to them within 24 hours.
  • Use templates and canned responses when replying to high occurrence emails.
  • Think before you CC the whole world. You might be the high email offender in somebody else’s inbox.
  • Have two email addresses – one purely for work and one for personal emails. Activate an out-of-office-reply on your school email during holidays, and DON’T CHECK IT until the start of the next term.
  • Never use your work email to spam colleagues with jokes and cute messages, that’s what Facebook is for.
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters and notices that you don’t read. You do not really need to hear daily from every online shop that you have ever visited.

Common mistakes when it comes to managing your emails

  • Not checking your emails every day. Not only does your Inbox have a way of snowballing, but when somebody email you something they expect that you are aware of it by the start of the next workday and have made work of it by the end of the next workday.
  • People often replace meetings with emails thinking it will save time. Especially when it comes to parents, you will find most issues that can be dealt with in a 30-minute meeting, will easily take up ten emails to solve.
  • Forwarding an email to several people without being clear who should respond to it.
  • Forwarding an email to somebody without realising that earlier in the email string there is confidential information.
  • REPLY ALL – the biggest sin of them all. It very seldom happens that you need to reply to everybody in the thread.

The Hamburger email

One of the reasons that I fail to manage my emails is when I have to send a difficult email, especially to parents. I procrastinate sending the email by staying away from my inbox as long as I can. The problem with emails is that it is very difficult to get the tone right. I have been told on a number of occasions that people don’t like the tone of my emails especially when I email parents, so I had to work on it a lot. The hamburger method is nothing new, but I have found that it works very well when you have to draft a problematic email.

  • Start with a positive comment or compliment – tell the parent something nice about their child.
  • Then deal with the issue at hand.
  • End the email, with another positive comment.
  • Throw in a side of fries if you can, anything to sweeten the deal.

Reread the email and ask yourself:

  • What do I want the person reading this email to think?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?

The end of your email is as important as the start of the email. Here is the expert’s opinion on what is the most appropriate way to sign off an email.

Here is the perfect way to end an email — and 26 sign-offs you should usually avoid.

Email has come to stay. And it is really amazing to see how it can save time and streamline communication. But like most things it has to be managed. So now you have not only become your own secretary, but you are the Boss of your Inbox.

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