🎶 Tonight I’m gonna email like it’s 1999 🎶

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This is an edited version of my latest School of Thought Column in Australian Teacher Magazine.

I started teaching in 1999, when within the school, communication was via the morning staff briefing and through memos or the like posted in my pigeonhole, that I might – or more likely might not – get to every day. And if something was really important, you’d go and find the person you needed to speak to and have a chat, face to face.

One of the biggest changes I observed in my time as a teacher was the proliferation of communication via email. I left teaching full-time at the end of 2012, at which point it would be a quiet day on the email front if I was receiving any less than 40 a day.

Today, I’m well aware that many educators are receiving far more than 40 emails a day, and this – to be quite frank – is ridiculous.

I say it’s ridiculous, because I’d wager that the vast majority of these emails require no action on your behalf, yet you’re compelled to read them, just in case. As a result you become distracted from your work with research showing it takes, on average, 23 minutes 15 seconds to get back on task. Ever wondered why you can sit for so long at your computer and get so little done?

Furthermore, due to the sheer volume of emails, many of you are forced to read them, just in case, just before you go to bed.

This impacts your ability to get to sleep. If, as a profession, schools are serious about teacher wellbeing – and it’s clear they certainly should be – then organisations need to recognise that it’s the day-to-day stressors that have a larger impact on teacher wellbeing than the one-off wellbeing day that might be offered.

If you have teachers who feel they need to check their email before bed, just in case, then I suggest you address this.

One way you might address this is to mandate a time after which no-one is expected to send or reply to emails – 7.30pm perhaps, or let’s go crazy, how about 5pm? Of course, if you can only get to emails after the mandated time because of family or other work commitments that’s fine, but can I suggest you write the email and then save it in drafts to send the next day, or use an app to automatically send it at the desired time. There is a big difference between receiving an email at 7:30am as opposed to 11pm. And you’re not really expecting the recipient to respond at that time are you?

Of course, you can argue and come up with scenarios in which this idea would be unworkable, but typically, these scenarios are not – or should not – be the norm.

In (almost) the words of Prince, “So tonight I’m gonna email like it’s 1999!”

I appreciate the irony that many of you will have received this as an email on the weekend

2 Comments on “🎶 Tonight I’m gonna email like it’s 1999 🎶

  1. I question though Dan, how mandating a time limit on emails actually reduces the amount of emails. Wouldn’t that just mean that same amount of emails but that they just hit your inbox between 730am and 8am? You mention the problem is that our inbox is filled with emails that require no actions, but we are forced to read them just in case. The issue then is why are we sending emails to people that it doesn’t affect? This is actually something that does annoy me. I make the point of only sending whole staff emails when the information impacts on everyone. The whole not checking your emails after a certain time is a personal choice. I know plenty of people who don’t have their work emails on their phones to ensure this. I for one do not take my phone into the bedroom, nor do I allow my children to have their devices in their rooms overnight. For me this is just sensible digital behaviour.

    • Hi Rhoni,

      Thanks for your comment, and of course you’re right…I’m not really addressing the amount of email one sends or receives, although I did touch on that in the Australian Teacher article I linked to at the start of my post.

      Rather I’m shining a light on what you know to be ‘sensible digital behaviour’ which unfortunately is not common practice. And from experience, the whole ‘personal choice’ argument falls flat in cultures that might not be as supportive as yours.

      Feeling compelled to do something – eg checking emails and being expected to respond ASAP – because of the social norms can be even more detrimental to wellbeing if it is at odds with what your personal choice would be. If the culture, or imbalance of power outweighs a colleague’s sense of autonomy (eg. the just in case mindset) then it’s an issue.

      Cheers 🙂

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