With the one visitor rule and happy with our little family, we regularly forget to have any visitors at all. Until someone reaches out. And then you realise what you have been missing. While I wouldn’t claim that our family doesn’t laugh together, this guest brought quite a lot more intense laughter. Suddenly you become very aware of how energising it is to meet people.
At the entirely opposite end of what is energising, however, is email. I would claim that email is the number one energy drain in my professional life. My unruly inbox seems to take a few hours a day to tend to properly, hours that I would rather spend on uninterrupted focused work, science and education. So my New Year’s resolution for 2021 is to reduce the amount of email I receive by 90% by the end of the year.
I had already taken some action. I archived all my processed email, rather than letting my inbox simply ‘grow’. I moved all team communication to Slack, which is a sort of professional WhatsApp for your desktop. It self-organises your communication, just how you want it to be organised. Most of the communication with the students on the courses I teach is now done via chat in dedicated channels on Microsoft Teams. While this is less well organised compared to Slack, it is still much better than having it run through my inbox.
‘Don’t put people in the cc unless you absolutely must’
I started 2021 with the easy things. I unsubscribed from almost all newsletters and blocked senders of semi-academic spam. I also created a cc folder. All the emails in which I’m in the cc automatically goes there. I only check it every few days and it feels amazing to see that I am missing absolutely nothing that requires my urgent attention.
I made a folder for unimportant stuff – stuff I might still want to archive, but that I usually do not want to read. I made a ‘newsletters’ folder where the few newsletters I still subscribe to go automatically. I check it once a week. All TU Delft related newsletters go there. There also an admin folder, where all administration related stuff that is sent out to many recipients goes. I only check it twice a week.
All in all, I currently receive perhaps 20% of the original amount of email directly in my inbox. And I am missing nothing. I’m enjoying just being able to focus on the emails that matter. Looking back, it’s so simple that I wonder why I didn’t organise things like this seven years ago when I started as an Assistant Professor? It is so simple that surely everybody must be doing this? Yet, if I needed seven years to come to this point, then there are probably plenty of other people who have unruly inboxes that drain their valuable energy every day.
I also started doing something that I wish everyone would do: don’t put people in the cc unless you absolutely must. It’s a kindness to others. Very few colleagues actually just pick up the phone (very convenient via the calling function in Teams) instead of emailing. I really enjoy it when people do. The human exchange with voices and pleasantries is a source of some of the positive energy of human interaction that is scarce in this period. I really should make phoning more of a habit myself, especially in these times where we rarely meet each other.
Monique van der Veen is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, department of Chemical Engineering. You can read about the work of her research team here and follow her on Twitter at @MAvanderVeen