My Strategy for Responding to Piles and Piles of Emails

[Note: I use the word "email" as a noun. E.g. "I received an email from Gwyneth Paltrow" instead of "I received an emailed letter from Gwyneth Paltrow." I also use the word "email" as a verb. E.g. "I never did get around to emailing Gwyn back my reply."]

When I was wrapping up graduate school, my email inbox was pretty empty. I also checked it several times an hour (awaiting notices from journals about my article submissions or universities about my applications for employment). When I received an email from a student or colleague, I didn't want to appear too eager to respond. I didn't watch the person on the other end to imagine that I was sitting at my computer, staring at the empty inbox and clicking the refresh button. So I would wait a few days.

Somewhere around the second year of being a college professor that changed. Even with the help of spam filters, which catch around 100 emails every day, I began receiving as many as 20 new emails between 8am and noon. If I played the waiting game, then these messages would get buried deep into my email inbox. This wasn't a huge problem for emails about fried chicken day in the cafeteria. But they were a problem if a student needed me to write a letter of recommendation. I decided to begin replying to emails as soon as I saw them.

Here's what I do: As soon as I see an email from a student, I send a reply. If this student needs me to do something and I don't have the time, then I will tell them that I see their email and will follow-up when I can. I say, "I'll get this to you by Wednesday," or whatever; I'm honest about when I think I will do it. Then I pin the email to the top of my inbox so I'll see it on Wednesday.

The Pinning method is not the most efficient, but it makes sure that no emails slip through the cracks. (Actually, I take that back. Even as I'm writing this I am realizing that I forgot to follow up with a colleague who sent me an email last week.)

If I'm currently going through my inbox and see that I have received an email from you, then I might just respond within minutes. I don't care if it makes it seem like I am pacing back and forth in front of my computer, waiting for someone to invite me outside to play tennis.

I've learned that most emails can be ignored. I receive a pile of campus updates every day. Maybe one out of ten is important. When I ignore these, I forfeit my right to say, "I never received that email" during meetings. Instead, I must say, "I probably ignored it. My bad."

The more I publish, the more I get automated emails from editor's desks asking me to submit articles or book chapters to vanity/predatory journals and presses. I usually follow these links when I'm bored or on the loo, and I find out what the article processing charge is. Usually it is around $2000 USD in publication fees. If the journal sounds interesting, I'll ask if they'll waive the fee. I've only had one journal agree to this, but I missed the deadline (I pinned the conversation, but didn't realize that the deadline was six days away).


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