Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘email’

Work / Life Balance

In academia, academic management on October 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Recently I was sent the following article which illustrates to me the importance of work/life balance. I have to admit my reaction to it was one of horror. And while the article portrayed everyone as being OK with this, the article lacked any reflection about how approaches like this shift work/life balance for everyone. The lab is more successful because they do a lot, it comes across loud and clear. But, when volume lies beneath the metrics of success (do a lot so that some percentage comes in was a part of the thread of this article) it impacts everyone.

Just lately I’ve been reflecting a bit on just what work/life balance means for me and for those around me.

Recently someone alerted me to the importance of treating weekends differently from week days. It came up in the context of an email being sent out at the weekend and responses being solicited in a pace of time that was more appropriate for a weekday. There is a work days/non-work days balance. Of course as soon as I say this I feel compelled to add that non-work days maybe work days, because that’s the pressure of the system at work. And because it’s true, I can’t get all the work I am expected to do done in the work week, so it bleeds out. Perhaps work/ weekend balance involves being able to openly talk about taking a weekend day off. And certainly it involves not feeling pressured to respond to work requests on a timeline that is more common on the workday.

I have another example. There is the work/sleep balance. The other day I woke up at 7am. I think that’s a reasonable time. When I awoke, I found a meeting request waiting me, generated at 5am in the morning and to which some other attendees had responded before 7am. Um, since when did sleep become less important. People have told me in the past that the key to being a successful administrator is insomnia or the ability to sleep only 4hours a night. Again this seems like one of those advantages that is borne from either what is an awful condition to have, or a stroke of luck. But when we talk about this as being the key to success, we set the standards for everyone. I wonder when I’ll feel as uncomfortable admitting to waking up at 7am as I am to discuss the day I took off from work.

A final one that I think has gained more traction involves the beginning and ends of the work day. Particularly with respect to scheduling meetings in the times when children are dropped off at or picked up from school. I’ve been involved in meetings (and teaching) in areas that are in the zones for child pick up/drop off since being here. But I’ve also been grateful for colleagues who remind us that those times in the day are reserved for important non-work activities. Not just because I hate to have meetings early in the morning, but also because its an open advocacy for life in the work/life balance.

p.s. why don’t we call it life/work balance. That would be in alphabetical order. Is it that work takes priority and its life that’s to be balanced in….


A Note from the Hyperdeveloped World

In C@tM, research on March 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm

This month’s Interactions magazine had several articles that reminded me once again how strange the world I inhabit really is. Three of the articles took up what, to me, seems normal, the immediate delivery of email, and a world in which a response to that delivery often expected.

Phoebe Sengers wrote about email in her discussion of her time spent living in Change Island, Newfoundland. An experience that caused her to reflect on a variety of values that frame her life in Ithaca but that were different to those abundant in Change Islands (she says this far more gracefully than I do). She describes a vision of email where users can control the speed at which it is sent, slowing down conversations, making them potentially both more manageable and more meaningful.

Susan Wyche’s piece on HCI4D and design takes up email again, as it is exchanged by Kenyan’s working in Nairobi with American co-workers. As she reports, Kenyan workers felt concerned that their American colleagues would perceive a delay in responding to email as a poor work ethic rather than being due to their lack of Internet connectivity. They felt the burden of trying to manage expectations of their American colleagues, and struggled with this. In this case one side was slowed down by infrastructure, but the other party in the exchange was not, and the values associated with managing email correspondence favoured (and derived from) infrastructure rich environments.

Marshini Chetty et al’s piece does not take up email directly, but highlights how business arrangements influence the use of infrastructure and the applications atop it. Countries that offer Internet plans for home users that are not sold by the speed of the pipe (as they are in the United States) but by how much people upload and download over the course of the month, shape how people choose to use the Internet. Managing those figures so that access to the Internet is preserved for an entire month (if caps are exceeded unless there’s an option to buy more data, its either a shift to a slower or no bandwidth) influences what people choose to do with their home Internet access, which must include email (perhaps especially the attachments).

In 2002 a paper by Lucy Suchman appeared, subtitled “Notes from the Hyperdeveloped World“. Although she focuses on a far broader set of flows, I can’t help feeling that these three articles provide an example of a small part of her argument, how values framed in contexts of unlimited ability to send email have been exported, by us, to places where they do not hold. And this reminds me of something that Gary Marsden once said, isn’t it about time we started designing for normal people.


Ignore it: A Strategy for Dealing with Email

In social media on November 15, 2010 at 11:01 am

Thanks to those who responded to my email posts.

Along the way I learnt about another strategy which is to ignore it. OK, I do that too. Ouch, that’s hard to say, it’s one of the times when I wish I had an anonymous blog, but that’s an entirely different post.

So, now to back up a bit. I do in fact just ignore some of it, if not permanently, at least for a while. I think that’s as much related to not knowing how to deal with it as it is with not wanting to deal with it. Sometimes, if I get really lucky it’s a group message and someone else does deal with it. Sometimes it’s important not to be a first responder.

Occasionally, and somewhat embarrassingly sometimes it gets lost in my inbox and enough time elapses that clearly it has been dealt with. What I mean is that the deadline by which the email made sense to respond to passes. Whoops. Silence becomes the decision, sometimes that’s also “dropping the ball.” I am now wincing, but continuing under the belief that I am not alone in this practice.

There’s another category too, which is ignoring it even though I want to respond to it. The faculty have a discussion list which I very much enjoy, and am glad we have. But sometimes I decide that in terms of time allocation it’s not a good idea for me to respond to a message. So, I ignore that opportunity.

Email: How do you manage it?

In academia, academic management, social media on October 26, 2010 at 9:16 am

I was just recently asked how I dealt with my email. That’s a great question. Here’s what I do in no particular order, what do you do?

* I take reassurance knowing that others clearly can’t cope with their email. I don’t mean that to sound harsh, rather I mean it to be about setting my expectations for coping realistically. I have a colleague who described being an academic as a permanent state of graceful failure.  So, don’t beat yourself up on top of everything else.

* When I think its going to distract me, I quit my mail application. This prevents me from using the fact that new mail has arrived to cease whatever it is I am supposed to be doing. I do worry that this violates the implicit expectations that email will be dealt with fairly quickly.

* When reading email I try to decide whether a task can be completed more quickly than it would take me to either ignore the email and re-read it later or to craft a diplomatic response. Sometimes this has actually led me to agree to do something when I might otherwise have said no, because the time spent crafting the gracious “no” message is longer than actually doing what is asked.

* I have gotten better about asking myself whether it is my responsibility, and if so what should I do. I am better about asking others to help me if I think they can. I have gotten better about deciding that someone else is responsible for the email and another will be generated when I am more immediately required. Sometimes I respond with a question about responsibilities, in order to get clarification on whether what I am reading is a to-do or informational.

* Using my website to communicate some of my email policies. I now routinely delete all email that comes to me addressed as “Dear Sir.” I am glad that I have clear policies about recommendation letters. The hardest thing in my experience has been to enforce them, but through enforcement comes consistency.

I have thought about

* Using my email sig file to communicate a different set of expectations about when I deal with email. Mainly because I think we may have gotten to a point where a more immediate response is expected.

I aspire to

* Not sweating my email policy

What do you do? Lets share some tips!