You don’t want to spend your work day checking email.
You didn’t get into education to answer email.
You didn’t get a degree to respond to email all day.
One author compares email to the old mail room. You probably wouldn’t be too jazzed about working in the mail room (unless you’re Buddy the Elf!), but your inbox is winning:
Unless you’re some uber-successful mogul with someone managing your inbox, email is a part of your work. Your principal uses email. Your colleagues use email. You use email.
Here’s 5 ways to better control your inbox and give you more time:
Email is an opportunity
This year I’ve emailed school board members and state representatives on educational issues. My emails were respectful but clear on my perspective.
Less than half of these leaders replied to my email.
Two leaders sent thoughtful replies.
A couple others replied with the standard “thank you for contacting me . . . “.
But the majority didn’t reply. I don’t want to make up stories as to why these elected officials didn’t respond. And there’s times I don’t get back to people, but your email is a billboard for you. People will think positively or negatively about you based on your email interaction.
Choose to see people emailing you as a privilege and an opportunity to communicate and serve them.
Schedule inbox time
Schedule email time and then don’t check email outside the scheduled time. People with legitimate emergencies know how to contact you outside of email. When my kid’s school needs to reach me because my kid is sick, they don’t email me.
Whenever you decide to do email work, it shouldn’t be the first or last two hours of your day. You don’t want to open email the first two hours of your day because your inbox has other people’s agenda for you and your day (buy this! read this! click this!). You don’t want to end your day checking email because then you’re telling your brain you’re still in work mode rather than getting ready for sleep mode.
You may need to experiment with times that work for you to find a consistent time. I try to check email around 9 in the morning (after I’ve been up and working for several hours on things I want to work on) to see what needs my attention. I’ll check it at least once more later in the work day. A friend of mine autoreplies to every incoming email telling the sender when he checks email so you’re not waiting with baited breath for him to respond (and what is baited breath? It sounded like the right thing to write there but I have no idea what it means!).
If you’re a teacher, tell parents when you check email.
If you’re a principal, tell teachers and staff when you check email.
When you communicate when you check email, you give free people from wondering when you’ll reply.
Your phone sucks at email
You need to tell your phone it sucks at email and you’re no longer using it as your inbox. Turn off email notifications in your phone and if you’re so moved, can delete the email apps. Once you have a set time for email, you no longer need your iPhone to say you have an email from Target about their big summer blowout. Email notifications take you from whatever it was you were doing (grading papers, cooking dinner, watching your son’s baseball game) and bring you back to your phone where checking the email becomes wasting time on Facebook, the Gram, or candy crush.
Your phone’s an amazing tool but it doesn’t have your best interest in mind with email. Turn off the notifications today.
Don’t read email
You’ve set aside time for email so now what? Don’t read your email.
You don’t want to read email. You want to decide emails.
Is the email a request to meet? Schedule it and move to your calendar. Can’t meet? Send a reply saying you can’t meet.
Is the email an offer to buy something? That’s most of our inbox. Buy or delete.
Is the email something you want to learn like an article, a podcast or video? Schedule the time to listen or read. Set up a folder where you store these learning emails and give yourself a week to listen to the podcast or read the article. Don’t get to in a week? It wasn’t important so delete.
Does the email need your opinion? These are the most challenging for me because I need “think time. Thank the sender for the email and let them know when you’ll get back to them with input.
You get the idea. Make decisions with email, don’t read it.
Put your email to work
Email is a powerful tool that can work for you. Use email to communicate vision.
To get YOUR work done.
How can you put your email to work without getting lost in your inbox?
One tip that’s worked for me: work in a different part of Gmail (like the “drafts” folder) where I compose emails and send them (or schedule them). I don’t see incoming emails and I am using email to communicate what I want to communicate
What email tips work for you? Let us know and together we’ll do better with out inboxes and get some time back.
A educator friend messaged me last week and asked if I was keeping up on our community’s school boundary discussion. Our community opens a new middle and high school next school year and is redrawing boundaries to balance out the number of students in each building.
My initial response? It was honestly meh. Not because of apathy, but because boundaries don’t matter as much as I’d like them to and as much as we as a community would like them to.
The potential boundaries’ effect on my family isn’t going to be that great. Our youngest child will be in 8th grade when the new boundaries take effect and we’re tentatively within the new middle school’s boundary, so the change potentially affects us. I’ve told several people, though, that if she wants to stay at her current school, she likely can because there’s not many decide to open enroll there.
Therein lies the challenge with school boundaries. School boards can set boundaries best they can. (Sidenote or disclaimer: The remainder of this letter isn’t a critique on my school board. They’ve worked hard. They’ve listened to the community. I’ve worked with a couple of them on community issues with Covid-19 and they’ve been gracious, conscientious and ready to help). School boards lean on population data sets and try their darndest to make sure schools are equitable with similar populations of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. It’s the best available metric we have to make sure our community doesn’t have schools of “haves” and “have nots”.
To give each school the opportunity to have an operational PTA or PTO.
To provide students with similar educational experiences and equitable facilities no matter the school they attend.
But I wonder how much school boundaries actually matter in districts with open enrollment and specialty schools. My words to follow will sound judgmental and harsh. Please know they’re not meant to. I believe families should make the best decisions they can for their children’s educations. For some families the best decision is homeschooling. For others its private education. For others it’s going to a specialized school or open-enrolling to a perceived better school.
Many of my neighbors have open enrolled to schools our community perceives as “better”. When I had four kids in elementary school, there were 19 kids in our half of the block and only 5 (my four plus another kid) attended our district school. Today they’re the only ones on our block who attend the school they’re supposed to according to boundaries. Our neighbors opted to open enroll to perceived better middle and high schools in our community and they should have that option.
But if every family makes a similar decision, if every family makes decisions with only their immediate best interest in mind, school boundaries will only matter for those unable to make a similar decision to open enroll. Or send to a specialty school. Or send to a private school.
School boundaries ought to be a great equalizer within a community.
School boundaries ought to provide equitable educational pathways for all students.
School boundaries ought to insure students and families benefit from diversity.
I see two options independent of the where the actual boundaries end up. The first option is for more families to make educational decisions in the community’s best interest.
In the neighborhood’s best interest along with their children’s best interest.
Families who view the world through a holistic lens and intentionally decide to educate their children in schools with more diversity.
In schools with a perception- real or perceived- of not being as good.
Families who use their opportunity to attend and serve schools with historically limited opportunities.
Communities with schools of "haves" and "have-nots" only delay costs the entire community eventually will bear. Harvard professor and author Robert Putnam writes in his excellent book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, “Even if we harden our hearts and simply leave these poor kids to fend for themselves, we still have to reckon with the lion’s share of these costs.” Equitable school boundaries is a good place to start. Families who intentionally choose to educate their children in schools perceived not as good are another way to take on these costs earlier and actually make a difference on the front rather than wrestle with consequences on the back end.
Perhaps this is a bit Pollyannaish. It's difficult and challenging for any of us to make decisions for the greater good when they conflict with our self-interest. So my second option is higher pay for teachers and staff in schools with higher rates of student populations on free and reduced lunches. I’m already on record as saying teachers don’t make enough as it is. I contact my local legislators each session on this issue. I know increasing teacher pay is already a challenge. I'll concede pay differences between teachers at different schools with similar education and experience potentially opens up a different set of problems.
But if we allow free movement between schools, if families can indeed make decisions in their children’s best interests, and if we continue to have community perceptions (again, real or perceived) of good schools and not so good schools, we need the best teachers and leaders at the perceived not so good schools and we need to pay those teachers and leaders and more.
I'm sure this invites a flurry of emotion, responses and many “what abouts” (what about this? what about that?). Most educators join the profession to enact change. Most educators are the best of us who desire to teach, serve and lead our next generation. They do so often without adequate pay or the resources to fully do their jobs. Putnam again writes, “in a market economy the most obvious way to attract more and better teachers to such demanding work is to improve the conditions of their employment”. This means increasing the pay and placing higher value on the teaching profession overall, but it might also mean admitting teaching 3rd grade at School A may be harder, more demanding or comes with more complex issues then School B.
I think both options are doable to provide a more equitable learning environments and opportunities for all students.
You have two options when you’re facing a problem:
You experience “not my problem” throughout your day.
Last week I was at a store to pick up something for one of my kids that we had ordered several weeks ago and was shipped to the store. And let me preface this story by saying I’m not trying to shame this retail worker or this store. Retail workers are experiencing demand they usually see during the holidays.
They're working with new social distancing conditions.
Customers are panicked and anxious. I get it; this environment isn’t easy and they didn’t sign up for it.
Anyway, I go to pick up the item we ordered and there’s a new person working. She’s flustered. They’re busier than normal and my default is to be chipper and polite (doesn’t always happen!). While waiting, a gal from the other side of the store- a worker I’ve known for years through her helping our family- comes in and tells the newer worker her office phone isn’t working. This store has two numbers depending on what you need and the one number isn’t working. The newer worked acknowledges the statement but doesn’t know what to do.
After a few more moments, she sends me to the other side of the store to get the item I ordered. I head to the other side and discover the worker who said the phone's not working is the only worker to answer phones and serve customers. She’s working hard. She’s with a customer. Traffic continues to fill the store and continues to get phone calls for the part of the store whose phone isn’t working.
She’s not getting mad. But rather than telling people to call back an hour. Or writing down their numbers so the other part of the store can call them back. Or ignoring the phone to serve the customers in the store, she communicate this isn’t her problem:
One of my first bosses out of college chose to see problems as opportunities. I was in grad school and I was managing apartment complex Tarina and I lived when we were first married. I oversaw two apartment buildings with over 60 units and 4 houses. I collected rent. Mowed yards. Cleared snow. Marketed vacant apartments. Fixed the occasional leaky toilet. There was always a problem, and whenever I’d head to my boss’ office to complain, the scene was the same: My boss was a giant of a man (he played football at the University of Michigan in the 1950s and made annual trips back to the Big House) and he was always chewing on a cigar (called it his pacifier).
I’d go in to his office to complain and expect him to solve my problem and in between bites of his cigar he’d say the same thing: problems are opportunities.
One winter I was snowblowing the rental homes and accidentally sucked up a one of the house’s dog chains and it got wrapped around the auger. The snowblower came to a fantastic stop and I was clearly in trouble. I remember calling him and thinking perhaps this problem was an opportunity . . . . an opportunity for him to fire me!
Whenever I encounter a problem, his mantra is still there.
I don’t always respond the way I want to.
I don’t always see the opportunity with the problem.
I don’t always want to see the growth present if I just lean in. Solve the problem. Work toward a solution.
But I desire to growth. I desire to see problems as opportunities rather than ignoring them believing they aren’t my problems.
You have two options today when you encounter a problem:
How will you see your problems today?
It’s been a week!
And it seems this year has way too many of these weeks. Each new month brings new challenges. New fears. New concerns. New opportunities.
When the world seems out of control, there’s four questions to ask. I’ve had many discussions about the recent events of racism, justice, protests, and riots with my family and friends. How my kids are experiencing them and how they’re feeling. How we can be the change we want to be and how that change starts with four questions.
When you want to make any change in your life- a health goal, a career goal, a financial goal- you can ask the same four questions.
Do I care?
If you want to make any change in your life, the first question is do you care. I know some say start with your why. Lead with your purpose. Start with the end goal. It’s good advice, but the first question to ask is do I care. Do I care enough to lose the weight? Do I care enough to run the marathon? Do I care enough to get the degree to become a principal?
Same question applies to what you’re experiencing in the world today. Do I care? We tend to care more the closer it comes to our community. If your community has had a protest or if your community had a protest turn violent, you care more than those whose communities who haven’t.
Here’s the thing: do you care enough about an injustice when it doesn’t personally affect you? When it doesn’t directly affecting you but you still know something’s wrong, do you care?
Do I give?
If you care about a goal, what do you give in order to achieve the goal? If you’ve got a health goal, what do you give to achieve the goal? What time and money are you willing to give to walk, or run, or hit the gym to achieve the goal. If you have a career goal, what time and money do you give to get more education or learn more to achieve the goal?
With what you’re experiencing in your world today, do you give money and time to make your community better? To make your community more welcoming. More equitable. A place where all are is valued and have the same opportunities.
One question we ask when we see bad things in our world is what can I do? You can mentor someone. You can volunteer at a food distribution. You can help businesses clean up after violence damages their stores. Sometimes the situations seem so bad you feel paralyzed as to what you can do, but often the more challenging question is do I give. If I care about something, what I am giving to that something.
Do I quit?
With any change you want to make in your life, you will want to quit. You’ll get frustrated the goal isn’t happening as fast as you want. You’ll get down because the initial excitement from starting the change has worn off and now doesn’t feel as good. You were pumped the first week about going for a run but by week 4 you’re looking for excuses because getting the run isn’t new and exciting.
Same with change you want to see in your community. There will be resistance. There will be despair. There will be times when you don’t feel like. This question will likely be its own blog on how to push through desires to quit or what Seth Godin calls “the dip”. But what awaits you if you don’t quit is the change you want. The person you want to become. The better community you want to be part of.
Do I learn?
Real growth and change happens in your life if you’re open to learning what worked and what didn’t. Back to the health goal. You want to lose weight. You decide you care enough about to losing weight to run every day. You give time and energy to running every day. You push through times when you want to sleep in or you’re too tired or it’s too hot or too cold or too windy or whatever excuse you’re tempted to use. You give up your excuses and you run to lose weight. And it works! You’re losing weight.
It’s right here where you can ask what have I learned? Maybe you actually learned you don’t like to run. You learned you can achieve a similar health goal through a better diet. Or by walking each day. Or through meeting friends for a class at the gym. So you decide to ease up on the daily running. You add other exercises. You still run but less often. But once you push through the resistance that wants to knock you off the goal, you’re free to learn. To grow. To make changes that bring you closer to who you want to become.
What question are you asking yourself today?
What questions would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
I don’t know how the name Karen came to get a bad rap, but you see “Karens” everywhere you go.
Karens police you in the store with a dirty look if you go down the cereal aisle in the wrong way or on the socials if they see a picture of you with someone other than an immediate family member.
Karens even show up at food distributions and chew you out or appeal to the sheriff when they don’t agree with your decision (true story from last week!).
Karens exude worry and fear. And the world can be scary and worrisome.
You have four tools at your disposal to better deal with Karens and to help you have better days:
What would you add to this list?
Which of these four can you give today? This week?
Let us know in the comments.
Opportunities for conflict surround you.
Conflict occurs at the grocery store when you see someone wearing a mask and you laugh cause you think they’re stupid or you see someone not wearing a mask and you fight the urge to accost them in the produce section.
Conflict occurs each Sunday as you question why your church is open or wonder when your church will reopen as you contemplate visiting a different church.
Conflict occurs each time you hop on Facebook or Twitter and you’re tempted to comment on the crazy perspective your crazy relative or high school classmate posted.
Conflict will occur in the future too as one school district welcomes students back in August and another district opens with no students in the building.
However you encounter conflict today, tomorrow or in the weeks and months to come, here’s five ways to be better with conflict:
Which of these five sticks out most to you?
What would you add to the list?
Let us know in the comments.
I wrote a book a couple years ago and it never failed that whenever I would sit down to write, my mind found other things it wanted to do.
Check email. Mow the lawn. Clean my desk. Organize my space. Move my to do list from several legal pads onto one legal pad.
My mind tricked me into seeing every accomplished task or every thing crossed off a to do list as being equal. It wanted the short term satisfaction of doing something- anything- that gave it an instant 'hit' of being able to cross something off the to do list.
The things in life worth achieving can rarely be checked off that easily. All completed tasks are not equal.
If you want to write a book, you can't put "write a book" on a to do list, write for a half hour or so, and then cross it off the list. It's weeks or months of writing. It's weeks or months of editing. And that's just the actual book part. Doesn't include publishing decisions, marketing decisions, and design decisions. You're not even thinking these things when you write you first book.
Your brain won't like this. It will get frustrated you're not accomplishing more quicker. Because you've started the book writing process, it wants to cross it off as quickly as possible. Your honorable desire to write a book will conjure up all kinds of emotions: fear, anxiety, impostor syndrome, shame, and guilt to name a few. You don't like these feelings. Your brain doesn't like feeling these emotions. It perceives these emotions as a very real threat to your continued existence and wants to eliminate the threats as quickly as possible.
So your brain barters with you. It tricks you into doing the dishes instead of writing a chapter. It entices you into cleaning the garage instead of editing the prologue. It seduces you into taking an afternoon to get a pile of clothes ready for Goodwill instead of choosing a cover design. Completed tasks give your brain what it wants: enough accomplishment to shut down the emotions causing it stress no matter how artificial the stress is.
This is true for anything on your bucket list. Running a marathon. Owning your own business. Going back to school. Changing careers. Having better relationships with your spouse or your children or your friends. These are items you can't cross off a list. These are items you work at every day until finally you have a copy of the book. You run 26.2 miles. You open the restaurant. You attend your first class.
So what hack can trick your brain into doing harder things? Do those things first.
I don't know what it is. Maybe the brain isn't as susceptible to hard things in the morning. Maybe it's able to resist the fear just enough for you to write the chapter. Or get the run in. Or work on your spiritual life. Maybe there's a magic to the morning where you and your brain can get on the same page about what you want to do.
Your window for doing hard things is from the moment you wake up to the moment you're time is no longer yours. Use it well.
Some PG-13 language in today’s post to keep it real. Yeah, I know no one says “keep it real” anymore, but the following story is true.
While working with our community’s food distribution you occasionally get grumpy people in the line. At our first food distribution I was massively chewed out by someone who didn’t want to wait in line. I can’t repeat the language here or I’d have to change this post’s rating. But I got it. People are amped up and her only outlet was to go off on me, so be it.
Back to the PG-13 story: last week a recipient is wanting food and she’s not in the system. She thinks she is. Finds out she isn’t. She’s annoyed. I can’t blame her. There’s been a couple different processes. There are several food giveaways in the community. And everyone- volunteers, food recipients, you, me- is feeling fear and anxiety to some degree. This gal is agitated wondering aloud why she has to re-register and finally lets out: “what the hell was the other registration for? What the hell why do I need to register again?”
My response? I smiled. And then I said “I know, what the hell” and chuckled.
She smiled. I smiled.
I might’ve caught the other volunteer off-guard but then they too smiled.
The point isn’t to swear more. This is maybe the second time I’ve publicly said “what the hell” in the last year. The other time was in front of my boys and nephews on the lake last summer, but that’s a story for another day.
The point is like this woman you’re going to have what the hell moments (abbreviated here on out as WTH) in the biggest WTH season you’ve ever lived through.
Your students figure out how to make all kinds of TikTok videos but can’t figure out how to upload an ELA assignment in Google classroom? WTH.
Your friend or family member posts/tweets/shares something and your only reaction is WTH.
Your kids quickly adjust to a summer vacation schedule of staying up late, binge watching Avenger movies, leaving the basement and kitchen looking like some massive party happened and no one cleaned up while you’re still going to bed by 10:30 and waking up in the morning muttering WTH.
Your children figure out new ways each day to bug the dog/cat/your spouse/their sibling/you, get the desired reaction of annoyance/growling/complaining/whining/yelling and then respond “what?!” with such genuine shock their action caused the reaction, and you’re like WTH.
I said WTH last week to diffuse tension and relieve stress. It worked for the woman in line and maybe, just maybe, calling the tense/worrisome/agitated/annoyed/stressed moment you’re living through a WTH moment will work for you too.
And if you want to keep it real, share your WTH story in the comments!
This is my first time doing this
I’m part of a team of folks providing food and necessities to people who need them during this pandemic and much of the provision happens in a twice a week food distribution. Our team has provided food necessities to thousands of households in our community and the most common thing I keep hearing is this is my first time doing this.
When you do something like a community wide food distribution, it’s challenging not to judge folks based on outward appearance. There are folks who look like they need assistance more than others. There are folks driving nicer cars than most or with the dealer tags still on the windshield. If it’s your first time helping with a food distribution, you’ll notice and comment and perhaps judge. I was in the same place several years ago too but a heavy dose of the author Ruby Payne and some experience and you can understand a person’s mindset and where folks are coming from (although full disclosure: I did mutter something when I saw the brand new Mercedes in line for the food distribution, so I’ve room to grow here).
The thing with this crisis from my perspective is how it cuts across socio-economic lines. Our recent food distributions have many folks saying this is my first time doing this:
People from all walks of life are experiencing an economic crisis for the first time.
This doesn’t negate the experiences of those who have been in this boat for some time.
This doesn’t mean it’s worse or sadder because more people are experiencing it for the first time or because people from higher socio-economic classes are experiencing it.
It does mean this crisis is different. It means it’s felt by different people and by more people. It means the faces, the clothes and the vehicles in line at the food distribution, on the internet applying for unemployment, or seriously anxious about how things look a month from now look more like my neighbors and yours then previous crises.
For many, it’s their first time asking for help.
And for most of us, it’s our first time living through something like this.
So keep this in mind today.
Remember it’s your Facebook friend’s first time living through something like this when you read her posts and are tempted to type out your disagreement.
Remember it’s teachers’ first time providing remote and virtual education. It’s students’ first times being taught via Zoom and Google Classroom.
Remember it’s your coworkers first time living through something like this this. It’s your family’s first time living through this.
This is your first time doing this.
This is our first time doing this.
If it’s your first time asking for help, it’s okay. You’re okay. You have tremendous strength and courage to ask for help
And if you’re providing help, you’re okay. And be okay with whomever you’re serving understanding your role is to serve and leave the questions and judgments for another day.
It's been said this time we're living through is more of a marathon then a sprint.
But it's actually more like training for a marathon. At least with a marathon you know when it's done.
I ran my only marathon 6 years ago and I still remember my longest training run of 22 miles. It was basically 11 miles out from my home, turn around, and run back. I left at like 4:30 in the morning and scared my wife, but that's a different story.
Mile 21- my last mile- I was done. I wasn’t even running at this point- it was like a fast walk. And right when I am experiencing some excruciating pain after 3 hours of running, this gal comes down a cross street, running much faster than I was, and a little too cheerfully says “good morning!”. She proceeds to dust me. In that moment I wanted to yell out “this is mile 21!” but I couldn’t really talk at that point.
Side note: it’s then I had the idea- free for any of you to take- of making shirts for runners with sayings on the back of the shirt like “distance day”. “Speed day”. “Easy day”. The shirts are perfect to communicate to fellow runners (like this gal) or even to people in cars who drive by and wonder why you’re not running faster and then smugly pat themselves on the back that if they ran, they’d certainly be running faster than you.
When you train for a marathon, not every day is a 22 mile distance day. Most days are like 5 or 6 miles. Some days are less and some days are more. Some days you’re doing some strength training in addition to the run and some days you’re doing nothing and resting.
As you live through social distancing, quarantines and stay at home orders, this isn't a marathon. It's training for a marathon, and here's what that means:
One last thing: just like my 22 mile run was the same day as someone else’s easy breezy run, your hard day may be your spouse's lazy day. Your lazy day might be a coworker's normal day. A Facebook friend or colleague might get to more normal days quicker than you.
And you’ll be tempted (like I was with the faster runner) to yell unkind things at folks having different kinds of day than you, but understand we’re all training for this together.
And we’re all going to train differently.
So rather than yell or judge, encourage and cheer each other on.