Thursday, February 28, 2008

Disconnecting from E-Mail

One nice thing about traveling to New Zealand was that I spent several days disconnected from e-mail. I went a whole 80+hours without checking my mail on both ends of the trip. It was nice. (I could have checked mail, but in New Zealand it seems like all the hotels make you pay for Internet access. I didn't feel like paying. Of course, I had e-mail available at the workshop.)

The experience has suggested to me that I ought to try moving to limit my e-mail during the day. It seems more productive to set aside time to specifically deal with e-mail; maybe first thing in the morning and last thing before leaving the office. I'm not sure how this would work with other people, though; many people treat e-mail like it's a phone call, an immediate connection (including my wife), when of course it's not. I often see "emergencies" pop up in my e-mail box; while I was gone, I was asked to call somewhere for my opinion of a job candidate, and an NSF director wanted me to expand on my research nugget (as usual, by yesterday preferred, by tomorrow would be OK). These people didn't need to get in contact with me that second, but there seemed to be the clear expectation that I'd see their message and move on it within a small number of hours. Is that a realistic expectation?

Of course, these weren't real emergencies, and making a practice of leaving e-mail aside and blocking my e-mail time better would probably increase my efficiency, and possibly my happiness, since I would feel less that I was constantly being interrupted.


Anonymous said...

I believe the best time to deal with emails is right after lunch. I tend to be running on only 50% while digesting which is still enough to answer most of the mails I receive. That way, I can use my brain's early morning "freshness" for the work that actually requires it.

Best regards

Michael Lugo said...

For what it's worth, I generally assume that people will turn around simple e-mails (i. e. the sort of thing which they can read and immediately respond to) within, say, 30 hours; that is, I assume people check their e-mail at least once a day, not necessarily at the same time. For anything faster I make phone calls or knock on doors.

(I personally check my e-mail much more often than that... but not everyone does.)

Anonymous said...

I treat email like regular mail, I'll try to respond within a week. If you need me, then call me. Of course I screen my calls. (I'll post anonymously this time.)

Mark Wilson said...

Let me take this opportunity to mention the inbox zero idea for email productivity.

I think it is definitely better to process email in batch mode, say daily, but I find that I do react to emails in real time more than I would like. Today I accepted a refereeing assignment and the editor told me it was the fastest acceptance on record. This is OK if I want a lot of refereeing jobs, I suppose.

Mark Wilson

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

I am at the point where I think it's unrealistic to expect me to respond to e-mails within a day. Very important things that absolutely require an immediate response I try to answer within the day. But the corollary of this is that things that aren't important quickly get covered in the e-mail stack and are forgotten. If it's important, I assume you'll e-mail me again.