Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and productive life while making a difference.
In this issue, you'll find:
- Destressing Email
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Destressing Email
As if professors didn’t already have enough stress on them with
the tasks they have always done, such as class preparation,
grading, advising, research, and committee work, now we’ve added
managing our electronic communication systems to the list. What
looked like a way to save time hand typing letters on letterhead
has become more an annoyance than a labor saver. Faculty tell me
they can spend two to three hours a day answering student
inquiries about assignments and colleague banter related to
committee work. One of my coaching clients reported that a
typical day for her involves receiving over 200 emails a day.
Since how to handle email has became one of the most frequently
asked questions in my Professor Destressor workshops, I have been
collecting tips from effective professors and business people for
lowering this stressor and getting back control of your time and
Design and Use Systems
You already know what doesn’t work: just sitting at your screen
randomly responding to incoming email while you grumble about the
important work you have not doing. Here are some ways that
productive faculty use to manage their email.
- Set up folders and filters. Sixty percent of the faculty
members in my time management workshops do not know how to set up
filters but this one step will help you to take back significant
control of your work day. Folders and filters allow you to choose
when to attend to groups of emails on related projects and
commitments. All email systems have some way of filtering emails
into different folders. Just like your computer already has
folders for “sent” and “trash” and “inbox” under your user name,
you can name and set up your own additional folders.
The method is usually found in a pull down menu with choices that
will be self-explanatory but here are the basics. To set up
folders, imagine a tree with a trunk and then branches and then
smaller branches. The trunk is the first division, often your user
name. It may appear on the left of your email screen. The
specific folders and subfolders represent the divisions and
subdivisions. For example, I manage my email with Netscape. In my
system I click on my user name (the tree trunk) and then go up to
“File” at the very top of the screen where I click until “New”
appears. As I move the cursor over to “New” more choices appear
and I let the cursor rest on “Folder.” A dialogue box appears and
I fill in the name I want and click “Ok.” The dialogue box closes
and a new folder appears as a branch of the tree trunk. In some
systems it appears in alphabetical order while in others systems
it appears in chronological order according to creation date. You
can create folders and subfolders related to your areas of
work-life balance. Here are some common ones:
- Title of each course you teach;
- Title of each committee on which you serve;
- Research areas on which you collect information and
- Action to be taken;
- Decisions to be made;
- Children’s activities with subfolders for soccer, scouts,
religious education, etc.;
- Personal folders for financial, travel, medical, etc.
There are two ways to use these folders. The first is to file
individual emails into the categories to either remind you (such
as in “Action” or “Travel”) of action steps related to your goals
and major areas of work-life balance. You can click and drag
emails into these categories. Then you decide when in your busy
work week you wish to manage the items in each category.
Periodically, you will skim a category, deleting many items and
acting on the most important. You can categorize incoming emails
based on priority and move as soon as you read or even move
without reading until you re ready. Other examples of folders
used by productive professionals include: “immediate action,”
“waiting on response,” “invoices and receipts,” “archive for a
year then clean out.”
The other use of the folders is to set up filters so that items
go directly to your folders bypassing your inbox. With this
method, you control when to open incoming emails by setting an
appointment with yourself for class preparation, committee work,
children’s activities, etc. The filter dialogue box usually is a
pull down in your email bar often under “Preferences.” You can
filter by the sender, the subject, or words in the email. For
example, when I teach Non-profit Leadership and Management 510,
I ask my students to put the course title NP 510 in the subject
title. My filter sends all correspondence from the class members
to that folder. I can open it once a day or every three days to
see what the students are writing about. Students in that class
submit all written assignments due to me by a date and time. The
assignments go directly into the course folder. I can grade as
the assignments come in or grade all at once after the
assignment deadline has passed. If you want to pace your
grading you might reward the early submissions by bonus points
or a chance to resubmit or some method consistent with your
pedagogical goals. The time stamp will let you know when the
email assignments came in.
Just like folders and filters can help you manage your course
work, they can also help you manage your administrative and
committee work. Committee members can choose a “Subject” for
their emails such as “Dean search” and the messages will land
in the “Dean search” box. You can decide when you are going to
work on that committee work instead of being interrupted by
banter all day long. By the time you get the folder open the
banter might have resolved itself without you needing to
participate and then you can respond to the essential tasks of
the committee. On the other hand, if you want to be part of the
banter you can watch the flag on that folder which will light
up to let you know of new unread mail as it
- Use electronic course management systems. Many colleges are
using commercial products such as Blackboard for managing
courses electronically; some schools have their own system
designed by their IT people. If you have not used these
systems, they can cut down on your email from students
tremendously. They are not just useful for on-line courses but
for your in-person classes as well. If you feel intimidated by
these forums, sign up for training at your college on how to
set up your course website. Your students are used to being part
of on-line communities such as Face Book and My Space and are
expecting their savvy professors to keep up with educational
Here are some things on-line course management tools can do for
you and your students.
- Post your course materials such as the syllabus, your bios,
links to readings, practice quizzes, etc. No more, “my dog ate
my syllabus so I didn’t know when the test was.”
- Post answers to frequently asked questions that have come in
by email. If several students are asking the same question, you
do not have to send them personal answers. You can send the
whole bunch the same answer (be sure to address them BCC, Blind
Carbon Copied, to preserve their privacy) and then post the
question and answer on the course website. When additional
emails come in with the same question, you refer them to the
link to the web answer. Too many questions on the same topic
may mean you failed to make your expectations clear on the
syllabus or assignment handout. The next time you teach the
class, use the frequently answered questions to revise your
syllabus with more explicit instructions and suggestions about
- Set up groups for the students to meet on projects, chat
about materials, and form work groups. You can monitor the
dialogue and offer guidance when appropriate.
- Use these forums for grade spreadsheets and attendance. The
students can access their own grades and attendance records
without seeing other students’ grades.
Electronic systems provide ways for you to work with
colleagues on and off campus. Committee members can use a
networked schedule within their university system or an
outside system such Yahoo and Google calendars to find their
next meeting time. The members plug in their availability and
the software does the merging work.
You and your coauthors can send papers with original text and
comments in different colors for each author. Some systems
even let you work simultaneously on the paper in real time as
though you are all sitting in one room making suggestions.
Don’t worry that these systems will make all of us moles
working in our little holes and never seeing the light of day.
The trend is for organizations to use these systems to replace
many unnecessary meetings with a few key meetings designed for
sharing, intellectual stimulation, fun, and the short of
networking that can’t be replaced by electronic media.
To handle email effectively, imitate the work habits of
successful professors who do the following:
Be Brutal with Time Management
You only have 168 hours a week. How many of those hours
do you want to allocate to email? Some additional tips
- Don’t open links when the person says, “Thought you
might find this interesting.” Oh, really? How interesting?
What is it about? Does it tell me how to save money or get
a better job or how to find a great husband or turn the
husband I already have into a great husband? If the writer
doesn’t point out the relevance of the link to your life,
delete the email.
- Reply in short-handed telegraphic speech. Instead of,
“So glad you can meet at 1. That time would be great for
me,” type “Confirm 1:00pm the 18th.” When responding to a
note, forego the formal salutations and signatures
required in written correspondence. Instead, dive into
your response and have an electronic signature line that
reminds the reader who you are.
- Instead of writing a long reply, pick up the phone and
tape a long reply into the person’s voice mail at a time
when the person is in class and won’t answer the phone.
You will save writing time and save them reading time.
- Keep a limit on how many exchanges you initiate. Do they
really want this note?
- Keep a limit on the number of people you CC or BCC on your
notes unless you need a legal electronic paper trail. Do
all of these people want this note?
- Ask your relatives to post family pictures on one of the
commercial sites so that you can peruse at your leisure.
Manage your electronic systems so you have more time for
what matters to you such as your research, kids, spouse,
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am currently accepting speaking invitations work-life
balance workshops for spring and summer. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
Title: "“Living by Design: Time Management for Faculty.”
“Mistake Proof Your Career: Advice for Grad
Students and New Faculty.””
Date: April 18, 2008
Place: Lilly-East Conference on College and University
Teaching; University of Delaware
Registration, fee, and directions:
Date: November, 2008
Place: Lilly International Conference on College and
University Teaching; Miami University; Oxford, Ohio
Registration, fee, and directions: TBE
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© Copyright 2008 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
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