Post Academic

Conquering Your Inbox: Making Email Etiquette Work for You

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionNow that you’ve tamed your inbox, it’s time to evaluate the quality of your online correspondence. Whatever you do, do not panic. Emails are not supposed to be great literature. They don’t even need to be grammatical. They just need to be effective and, most important, polite.

With the rise of email and IM in the workplace, it’s even easier to be rude. You can be rude via email even if that’s not your intention. Without seeing someone’s face, you can’t tell what a person really means. A “thanks a lot” in an email might read like a sarcastic “up yours” without the proper context.

At some point, your online words are bound to be misunderstood. Here’s how to be clear without offending your colleagues:

Choose your email length wisely. An email that’s too short might come off as brusque, like you didn’t think enough of the recipient to write a complete sentence. But a long email might open you up to unwanted critique or tempt you to go off topic. Stick to the task at hand.

More after the jump! Image from Deutsche Fotothek, Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

Conquering Your Inbox: Changing Your Email Habits

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA few days ago, I offered advice that helps channel all your emails to one account and gives you more control over finding emails that you need. That will only go so far, however, unless you change some of your email habits so you can make emailing more productive. For starters,

Convert emails to actions. Anyone who knows GTD is going to know this. An email is worthless if it’s just sitting in your inbox. Determine the next step. For example, if someone sends an email talking about a massive work backup, do you need to take steps to hire a new person on your team? And what’s the first step to reach that goal?

Don’t reply immediately. There’s a rule that you should let something you just wrote marinate for a while before you start editing it. Other people’s ideas should marinate as well. You might need to get something done right-now-this-minute, but it always helps if you give the whole team a chance to chime in. Someone might volunteer for the job, or someone else might quash the task. Don’t waste your time until you see how the situation plays out.

More after the jump! Image from the German Federal Archive, Wikimedia Commons.

Conquering Your Inbox: Changing Your Email Structure

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionAn inbox can be one of the most depressing time-sucks known to humanity. You can spend hours answering e-mails and engaging in discussion. Hours will fly by … yet you haven’t accomplished a bloody thing, and there are still 100 emails you still haven’t answered.

I’m not going to pretend I can help you solve all your inbox issues, but when I entered the Hamster World, I had to figure out how to tame my inbox fast, or I was going to drown in an email tidal wave. These tips involve organizing old emails and changing your email behaviors to stop email threads from growing too long.

Evaluate your email service. Is your email service doing the job for you? Consider the features. Can you create folders? How much space do you have? Can you search your emails? If you aren’t happy, notify your supervisor or IT, or open your own gmail account and have everything sent there. Then …

More after the jump! NWRC programmer Irma Lewis at the console of the ALWAC III computer in 1959. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.


Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: Taking Action … Or Not

Posted in Crib Notes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on October 1, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension,not usedGetting Things Done is all about moving from gathering information to taking action on that information. David Allen advises that once a task comes on your radar, you have three options: Do it, Delegate it or Defer it. He does not mention an option that comes up repeatedly throughout the book–Ditch it. Let’s go through each option:

“Do It”: Finishing a task will make you feel much better. Of course, that’s easy for a hamster to say, and a dissertation or a job application is a different matter altogether. Allen recommends that, whenever you gather up and process your tasks for the day, you do anything that can be done within two minutes. Otherwise, you’ll never get around to it.

“Delegate It”: So you’re a grad student or an underpaid academic. “Delegate it” is off the table. Your school doesn’t have the funds for delegating.

“Defer It”: You’ll want to defer the task, especially if it is a big one. But before you defer it, ask yourself if there’s a chunk of the task that you can do in under two minutes. See Post Academic’s past entry on breaking large tasks into small chunks.

Read about the “ditch it” option after the jump! Image from the German Federal Archive, Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: Organizational Simplicity

Posted in Crib Notes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on September 29, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOne thing I’ve learned after sitting in on usability studies, which test how consumers respond to websites, is the following:

If it isn’t easy, people won’t do it.

It doesn’t matter how cool the widget you’re promoting is. It doesn’t matter how important your product is or if it is genuinely beneficial to someone. If the item isn’t easy to find or if the form isn’t easy to fill out, people will not do it. By extension, you’re not going to get organized if you don’t make it easy on yourself. Many of David Allen’s GTD ideas revolve around making filing systems easy.

Filing papers sounds as exciting as being dipped in a vat of boiling oil, and you went into academia so you could avoid being a lameass paperpusher. But Allen’s theory is solid–you won’t mind filing as much if you can file an item in under a minute. If it’s hard to file, you will let your papers get scrambled.

More after the jump! Image of a file cabinet by Elizabeth Roy from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Reading Getting Things Done So You Don’t Have To: The Basic Principles

Posted in Crib Notes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on September 27, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension“So You Don’t Have To” is a series inspired by financial blog The Simple Dollar, in which author Trent Hamm reads books on finance, reviews them and sums up their most helpful points. I’m reading books that are useful to academics and post academics in particular. You guys already have enough to read, anyway.

I’ll cover Getting Things Done over a few posts, but I recommend buying the book, not because I don’t think I can cover everything but because this book is valuable and worth the money. The Simple Dollar also goes into GTD in great detail. For Post Academic, I’m covering the main concepts and not the exact items you need to purchase or methods to follow because you’ll need to adapt GTD to your own work day.

Now, on to the overall principles of GTD and how they relate to academics and post academics. Author David Allen offers many examples of how to implement GTD, but his strong suit is boiling everything down into three points that thread their way throughout the book:

Point #1: First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.

In academia, it seems as if everything is unfinished. That paper can always be revised. You could always add more comments to student papers. You could read that book that doesn’t really relate to your research … but if you don’t, someone will ask you a question about it at a conference, and you won’t get a tenure-track job PANIC PANIC PANIC … and so forth. Nothing seems to finish, but you can trick the system if you trick yourself into gathering up all the tasks you need to do (that means all of them, even the ones that don’t seem important) and getting tasks out of your head so you aren’t gnawing on them. Then you can focus on the tasks at hand and get them done faster.

More after the jump! Image of an old-school electronic organizer from Wikimedia Commons, by Satmap under a Free Art License.