Brave or Stupid? Abandoning email #workflow #teacher5aday #wellbeing #productivity

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There are plenty of articles out there about email productivity, labelling, filtering. Colour stars abound. Branching labels grow unchecked. I won’t link to them here.

My workflow – for years – has almost always been manually controlled: Interesting / useful email message? Forward to Evernote for archiving and tagging. An action from an email message? Add it to my To-Do list. An email bulletin from a website or solution provider with an interesting article to read? Forward to my Pocket address so I can read it on my Kobo later.

But the email pile grows ever bigger, even with archiving, and searching for an email is just as frustrating as it was before. Add to that the 24-7 nature of email and the “respond now” culture that has evolved over the past few years and you have very little chance of switching off. France are making headway with this issue (but not banning after work email) as they realise this seriously impacts staff wellbeing.

It has got to the point where I want to abandon email altogether and work with a system that helps organise and track tasks for me and others in my department. I have a feeling this is a simultaneously brave and incredibly stupid action but want to explain my reasons behind the decision:

Last weekend (yes, weekend – I’m such a hypocrite) I introduced Trello to my team. You may already know about it but for those who don’t it is a collaborative system where you can have discussions within a card. These cards can be organised on a board. Those boards can be private or public. After a week or use we have reduced our department email to a whimper of what it was previously. Within a week. The boards are evolving and we are communicating almost entirely within Trello cards. It has been so successful at channelling and tracking our asynchronous communication that I’ve put on hold the plan to introduce Slack (which I thought would be an essential component) for the time being.

However my non-department school email continued to pile in. I realised that most of these were being actioned then archived to Evernote. I use Evernote for its tagging and have been archiving web pages, resources and documents of interest since 2010. I have a nice labelling system set up and had previously attempted a productivity system within Evernote without much success. The main issue then was that I had to manually forward actions from email to Evernote, then manually tag them in Evernote appropriately, then remember to manually check the saved searches, etc. It was adding to my workload, not improving it. By removing my department email threads I realised that I had an opportunity to automate some of my workflow for the benefit of me, my team and perhaps the rest of the school.

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I looked again at email filters. I created two new ones: The first to file department mail into a “Computer Science Department” label, the other to file all other emails from within my school into a “Whole School” label. I’m working on the simple premise that, if I know who sent it, I know (roughly) what area of my school it relates to.

Then I used the IFTTT service to detect when unread emails with either label appear in my inbox and forward the email text (not attachment) to Evernote. The IFTTT applet files them in my Action Pending notebook and tags them as department or whole school.

At this point I have some manual intervention. I read the messages within Evernote and decide if they need actioning. If urgent I tag them as “1 – Now”. Other levels of urgency are available but none are automated as yet. I realise this is just moving an email to another system however Evernote does not notify me of new notes so removes the “respond now” demand and allows me to schedule a time to check messages every day.

I created another IFTTT applet that looks for a note in Evernote being tagged as “1 – Now”. When this happens it automatically creates a Trello card with the message text and puts it on a private board called “From Evernote”.

From Trello I can now move this from my board to public department boards if it requires action or input from my department.

Other emails from suppliers or subscriptions remain in my email for the moment but this now allows me to take time to purge what is spam (I’ll bet most of it) and what I can automate into Pocket articles in the future.

Potential issues:

I realise that the emails that have attachments will still have to be manually viewed in my email. If I need to forward emails to Evernote instead of using IFTTT in the future it is a minor change as I already have an automated workflow which archives scanned student work for marking within Notability. At present I can upload attachments up to 25MB into Trello cards if required.

There is a daily cover email which is important to read and action if necessary. This one cannot be delayed until a quiet moment of Evernote contemplation. At present I’m not sure how best to filter this – perhaps a separate private Trello board for cover is required (at least until I can convince the school that this is the way forward)….

So my questions are: Brave or stupid? Do you think this will work? Do you have any workflow suggestions to share?

And now I’m going to spend the rest of my day with my family…

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