Battling my emails

I started tracking my time at work in detail at the start of my postdoc in 2018, using the amazing app ‘Timeular’. This series of stories provides some insights into postdoc life using that data.

A traumatizing aspect of academia to many post-PhD scientists, perhaps: the inbox! Throughout my postdoc career, I noticed soon enough that the tide of emails was swelling, especially from the moment – in 2019 – that I put myself at the steering wheel of SoilTemp, a network of several hundred scientists. An increasingly international network with increasingly many collaborations, and you can imagine how many emails would come in! Yet, how much of my time was actually going into emailing?

Numbers, please!

Percentage of my time spent emailing since the start of my postdoc in 2018, tracked minutiously using the Timeular tracking software.

At the start of my postdoc, the mailbox (and its fancy relatives like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or even Facebook Messenger for some colleagues) only ate up a blissful 7% of my time. By 2020, with SoilTemp in full swing, I rounded the magical number of 20%. In a 5-day week, that’s one full day of emailing… Daunting! And no wonder I started to consider my efficacy.

If that amount of emailing is truly problematic, that’s a different story, of course. Not only was I managing this large network with its seas of useful and important emails, a lot of my other tasks were also increasingly replaced by an advisory role. Statistical analyses and paper writing as done in my PhD and at the start of my postdoc was now turning into assisting students or colleagues to do just that. Many of their questions could often be answered in a short – or longer – email, and them taking over lead authorship on many papers implied that my own time spent on these papers was reducing.

Nevertheless, I was realizing that I needed to be smart and efficient to keep that tide of emails at bay. I decided to step away from the immediate answering that I was used to from back in the days and delineated specific moments in which I would email. Now, I’m starting my Monday, Wednesday and Friday by working through my inbox and putting it back to zero. I answer emails that only take me up to 10 minutes of work, and schedule more demanding ones for different times, depending on their deadline.

This way, I am usually relatively fast with my response (2 days maximum), while still keeping a significant chunk of my week email-free. I do make an exception for my students, of course: their questions, thoughts, musings, or whatever they feel the need to share, will usually get a much quicker, if not immediate, response (as long as I can answer in less than 5 minutes).

Is this strategy paying off? I bet you it is! I regained some sanity, I am still on top of my inbox, and I turned the tide of emails: in 2022, the percentage was down to 14.5%, a more than 5% drop since 2020! Very happy the numbers support that decision!

Microsoft Teams – and the IT support team asleep next to it
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1 Response to Battling my emails

  1. Pao Alfonso says:

    IT support kitteh looks busy napping! So cute.

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