Re: Your endless email overload. NTN

If your inbox routinely gets crammed with more email than you want, you're far from alone on campus.

It's not just a UC Davis problem, of course. A recent study on email stress by academic researchers at Glasgow and Paisley universities in the United Kingdom found that some British office employees check their inbox up to 40 times an hour. (Researchers considered this a bit, um, excessive.)

One-third of the participants said they felt stressed by the amount of email, and felt pressured to respond quickly. But checking frequently, or responding on demand, interrupts a person's concentration. That harms any task that requires sustained, focused attention.

Maybe that resembles conditions you sometimes see at your desk. A few coping strategies, plus various tools available at UC Davis, can help you tame the load.

Tell 'em 'no thanks needed'

Here are some ideas, distilled from advice offered by various email experts.

1) Decide when to read your email. Check your inbox infrequently. Decide how often, then stick to it. Consider turning off the automatic notice that tells you you've received a new message.

2) Don't be part of the problem. Use the "reply all" button sparingly. Consider that to get fewer messages, you might want to send fewer yourself.

When you do write an email, make sure that your subject line is clear and your message is concise and to the point.

3) Manage your inbox. One idea is to file messages in folders, or to create rules so that messages are automatically delivered to specific folders. For example, send all your email newsletters into one folder.

One caveat: make sure the folders are based on content--not, say, on a person. Otherwise you may end up with several overlapping folders that make it difficult for you to categorize and find items. Another inbox strategy is to immediately move the email into a task or calendar item.

The worst thing you can do, according to experts, is to check your email and not act on it.

4) Create some common email etiquette. Some people find it rude if they send an email and never hear back. Others grit their teeth at cheery emails that merely say, "Thanks!"

So, talk to your frequent correspondents and come up with some norms; maybe add NRN (No Reply Needed) or NTN (No Thanks Needed) on the subject line.

Maybe you can limit some responses to the subject line, so the recipient doesn't need to open the file. Code that message with an NMF, for No Message Follows.

Maybe it doesn't need to be an email

Another reason for the email overload is that we rely on it for most of our projects and communications. But numerous other tools--instant messaging, collaborative workspaces, social networking spaces, blogs, wikis, even phones--can be more efficient.


1) Instant Messaging (IM). It's a popular way to converse quickly. Although IM is text-based, like email, the communication is more conversational. IM is generally less intrusive than a phone call, because recipients do not have to reply immediately, and can step away from the exchange and return when ready.

SmartSite, the new online course-management system at UC Davis, has a chat tool you can use like IM. Free IM services are also available from providers like Yahoo, AIM, and MSN.

A caution: Social Security and credit card numbers are not secure in emails or instant messages. Consider the purpose and content of your message when deciding how to send it.

2) Shared, online workspaces. Shared hard drives have existed for years, but new Web-based tools like SmartSite are making it easy to work together online. Participants can upload documents to their SmartSite Resources folder, or they can use SmartSi te's wiki tool, which allows joint writing and editing of a shared document.

And if you use SmartSite, consider your . . .

3) SmartSite notification preferences. The system lets users set their preferences (in My Workspace) for how they would like to receive announcements, email, resources, and syllabus items (when applicable).

Users can have all notices sent to their email, or they can get a daily email summary, or they can choose not to have email sent at all--and instead view the latest notices online when they log into SmartSite.

4) The telephone. If you and a colleague have emailed back and forth numerous times, trying to solve a problem or develop a project, try the phone. Calling someone--or meeting in person--lets each person deal immediately with whatever questions or issues come up.

And an old favorite: Spam-swatting

One final, familiar idea: block as much spam as you can. On a typical day, the campus system will process about 2.7 million email messages, of which 1.2 million will be rejected as spam; another half-million is likely spam.

If your email account resides on one of the campus email servers, you can use the campus spam filter to deflect much of the junk.

Each piece of email that goes through the campus system is ranked for its potential spaminess and given a score from 0 to 14.

From 0 to 4, the message is most likely legitimate email; from 5 through 9, it's probably spam, and from 10 through 14, it's almost assuredly spam. Anything that earns a 15 gets the boot.