One of the largest frustrations of my current job as an academic and I guess that as a professor is the permanent feeling of not having enough time; of constantly being behind deadlines; of not being able to devote time to individual projects; of ending the working day with the sensation that I have been working non-stop for 8 hours and the list of pending things is even longer than at the beginning of the day. Always stressed…Almost feeling guilty for not checking my emails during the weekend and try to catch up… This permanent unfinished business means that the mind cannot relax. It means sleepless nights, constant tiredness and frustration, and, in my case, multiple stomach problems.
It is completely different now.
In my previous blog about the blessing of job downgrading, I addressed some of the advantages of being a nobody in the organization for which we are volunteering. As the weeks pass, I have come to realize that there are many more advantages to job downgrading.
So many, that they deserve more than one blog.
An not surprisingly, many of them relate to having time to do things. I came to this “breakthrough” realization (sigh!) while watching my inbox. So, let me focus on one of the blessings of job downgrading: finally being able to manage my email.
1. What is all the fuzz about
For the first time in many years (so many that I cannot even remember when was the last time was this happened), I had no emails pending a response in my inbox.
No bold messages. No accusing unread dots. No guilt feeling.
Instead, complete and utter happiness.
So much that I went running to Frank to share the amazing news with him. I had NO messages in my inbox pending response. I had been able to respond to ALL of them within the day. Isn’t it wonderful! I love job downgrading, I added!!
Frank looked at me completely unimpressed. Well, he said, “I have that all the time at work”.
Well, I thought. I don’t.
2. Is it me?
Could it be the way that I work?.
I do not have my work email on my mobile. I find the pop-up messages of the new emails so annoying that I switched them off many years ago. And, after a burnout, I try not to check my emails first thing in the morning but try to do something on what I had in my to-do list first. And THEN open the email. And I definitively do not check my emails during the weekend.
So yes, I am not on top of my emails. But it might be that I have far too many emails to respond to?
3. Or is it the world?
Let me analyze this second hypothesis: “I have too many emails”.
All in all, I tend to have, on average, 50 emails on my inbox on a daily basis. About 10, are spam and can be deleted fast. Of the rest…
- About 10 of them, can be responded fast (a doodle for a meeting, an invitation for an event). Let’s call them the C group. They take 1-2 minutes max.
- About 10 do not need to be responded but read. This is the B group. They take 2-5 minutes to read and archive the relevant information in its place.
- The remaining 20 have attachments that need to be read or require information that I need to collect or that require a lengthier answer. This is the A group. It might take 15-30 minutes on average for each of the A group emails, including the consultations necessary to respond to the email.
Do the math: C: between 10-20 minutes daily, B- between 20-50 mins and C- 300-600 mins. Total: 5,5 hours in the best-case scenario and 11,2 hours in the worst. In summary: answering and administering emails becomes almost a full-time job.
4. The email blessing in my current volunteer job
So, right now I am involved in two projects at Osa Conservation:
- An analysis of the socio-economic impact of protected areas and
- A review of the literature on the use of drones for reforestation and restoration of large landscapes in the neotropics.
In one of the projects, I interact with one project coordinator and in the other project I interact with two persons: the director of the marine program and another member of the staff. Total…hmmm…3 persons?. Two emails each per day max make a staggering number of 6 emails maximum per day.
Being a nobody in the organization I get no emails about the entire organization’s activities, no general information and I am not C/C’ed in anything, nothing. Nada. Zero. Wonderful right?
Apart from those, I also get some emails from my old work. May be 5-10 per week. The really urgent ones that require my attention. Plus the normal personal email. Conclusion: something completely doable for a normal person that has a life beyond work.
5. Lessons for the future?
I tried to visualize the problem making a very simple graph. Basically, it looks like this. As a professor, I am in the orange circle. As a volunteer, I am in the red one.
At any point in time, any person is likely to receive emails from those directly above, those at the same level in the organization, and from all those that participate in the projects in which that person is involved or manages. The larger the organization, the more projects that one is involved in, and the more people that work in those projects, the more emails that one is likely to receive.
In terms of “projects”, as a professor, each course could be seen as a project with several participants that will interact with me (In autumn 2019 I was teaching 6 courses, with a number of participants -students- ranging from 6 to 35 and an average of 3 teachers per course, sometimes more). Plus I was involved in several research projects and applications and several co-authored publications, etc.
Conclusion: Breath means also an overwhelming number of emails.
Obviously, downgrading is one of the venues to reduce, significantly the number of emails.
But it is not the only one. What this graph show is that depth instead of breath can also achieve a similar goal. Being very selective with the types and number of projects is definitively another way forward to maintain the email at bay.