Monday, January 31, 2011

Losing (some of) the Noise

My experiment this term is "no-email Thursdays." I'm not telling my colleagues (yet) and I'm only cutting myself off from work email. Of the four Thursdays I've encountered so far, I managed to stay true for three of them. The week before last, I forgot. Habit kicked in and I checked and somewhere in the back and forth of History scheduling minutiae with a colleague it clicked...this was exactly the kind of time suck I was trying to avoid. The other three Thursdays were beautiful, productive things and no one died when I did not answer or initiate email for one day.

Here is what I've learned:

1. a day in the middle of the week is probably the BEST day to stay off email. Most of my colleagues teach on Thursdays and are therefore quite busy. They seem to assume that if I don't answer it is because I am similarly busy (I think) -- only I don't teach on Thursday (delicious, delicious Thursdays!). Friday or Monday we have the (fiction of the) weekend and people are twitchy about getting answers before people "go away" for the weekend (altho many don't go away...see point number 3 below). I can always mop up whatever crisis has exploded on Friday morning and not leave anyone hanging as we head into the weekend.

2. I have to prepare. I have to go into my email on Wed night and pull out whatever I need for the work I have planned for Thursday. This means I have a chance to answer late-in-the-day emails and I HAVE to plan my Thursday. Guilt and control freak tendencies go down and productivity goes up.

3. I want more. I want no email weekends. What I am learning, however is that my colleagues have pretty much lost all sense of boundaries. One of them sent an email asking for a discipline vote on something at 8pm on Friday and then was back on line early Saturday afternoon complaining that only one person had weighed in. (I saw all of these on Saturday evening but was so annoyed by it I waited to answer until Sunday night -- should have waited 'til Monday!))
This job is already severely lacking in boundaries as anyone who has ever gone anywhere with me and knows that I carry a book (or three) with me pretty much constantly knows. Why can't we have weekends? I'm not going to pretend that I don't work on weekends. I do. But at least let me stick to doing the reading and grading that is necessary and keep the piddly requests and political crap for a weekday? And then there are the students... I'm thinking email allows us just way too much access to each other and that we all need to retreat to our separate corners. Email, for example, allowed me to learn that a student in my methods class only today found the instructions for the paper that is due tomorrow. Really, do I need to know that my students take my assignments so seriously that they only start them the night before? No, I don't. I'm sure they do this. I'm just sayin' that I don't want to know!

Anyway, the upshot is that no-email Thursdays are pretty damn awesome and I intend to keep them up and look for ways to further limit the noise and improve my focus.