Ted’s Tips: Managing Email

By Ted Murcray

Email can get the best of us! Too many email messages can make us feel like responding to email is a full-time job. As a professor, we want to be sure we respond in a timely manner, but sometimes there doesn’t feel like there is enough time. These are a few tips for managing the incoming messages from students.

Let your students know when you check email. Responding all throughout the day can be overwhelming. Instead, designate particular times in your day to look at and answer concerns via email. You can communicate this in your syllabus or in a Blackboard announcement, so all your students know when they can expect to hear back from you.

Set reasonable timelines. In today’s culture of immediate gratification, we often want instant responses to our email messages. Students often want the same thing. This is often an unreasonable expectation given the varied demands on our time. Communicate up front with students that you will respond within 48 hours to a message. Let them know that if they have not heard back in 48 hours, it is fine for them to email you again to prompt a response. Then, during the time you set aside to respond to email, try to get back to everyone within 24 hours. This will give you some wiggle room in case something else takes your time unexpectedly.

Track FAQs. Often I get several email messages with the same concern or question. This is a flag to me that something was unclear in my Blackboard course or my syllabus. By tracking Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), I can improve communication in my syllabus and in my Blackboard course that will result in fewer email messages in the future. Increasing teacher clarity (having clear expectations for students) also results in higher student achievement, so tracking FAQs is a win-win for you and for the students!

If you have additional tips or thoughts on how you handle your inbox, leave a comment below to join the conversation and share your ideas with your colleagues!

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