UKEdMag: Do LESS e-mail BETTER by @the9to5teacher

I thought it hugely amusing (along with a large chunk of the teaching community, I’m sure) when only a few years ago the Education Secretary for England of the time, Nicky Morgan, suggested that schools should ban emails after 5pm each day. See uked.chat/emailban.

The idea has been recycled recently by Damian Hinds. See uked.chat/emailbanagain.

‘What good would that do, and what, if any, difference would that make?’ was at the forefront of my mind as I metaphorically rolled my eyes.
However, there might be quite a bit of truth in it from my experience after implementing it since the start of this academic year.

This article originally appeared in Issue 53 of the UKEdMagazine. You can freely read the magazine by clicking here

After reading Matt Haig’s book Notes on a Nervous Planet (uked.chat/nervousnotes), over the summer break, where he alluded to the negative mental affects that phone notifications can have, I followed in the footsteps of others at my school, by turning off all notifications from my phone and removing work email from it completely. What a freedom that has created in my mind.

Just to be clear, I had 30 apps, which could all grab my attention whenever they wanted, as they had notifications switched on. That is ridiculous!
Those little red bubbles that were once dominant on my phone and a distraction from my friends, family, work and anything have now gone. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram notifications have all gone! It’s not that I don’t see a value for these apps (although some I do detest for providing an insight into a fake virtual identity), it’s the fact that I can now go to them on my terms, rather than on the terms of the companies that are running them, affecting my brain and making it more filled and thus more tired. I remember as a child, my mum watching the news at 6pm and the world still had it’s pros and cons. It’s exactly the same now: I can watch the news when I want to rather than the news telling me when it wants to.

I naively didn’t delete the mail app from my home computer. One evening in September I opened up my email to find something that made me overly anxious and led to a significant lack of sleep that evening. I know it could have waited until the next morning and I could have stewed on it briefly before being distracted by my wonderful class, who would have given me the strength to get through it.

Now I only check my email first thing in the morning and at lunchtimes, as I don’t want to go home with something new on my mind when I step out of school. I want to go home with as free-a-mind as possible.

As teachers, we need to think about our workload alongside our mental wellbeing. As always in these situations, having a supportive senior leadership team is vital and I am fortunate that at my school we have this in abundance. It is a supportive atmosphere where teachers’ wellbeing is considered and valued on a daily basis.

The thing about emails, and indeed all notifications, including those from social networks, is that if people really care about your views and want to hear your replies, they don’t need to know them instantly. They can wait. The Earth will still spin; the days will still go on. Most work emails will require a response or an action, even if it’s a simple ‘delete’. Why check your email at a time when you are not able to respond or react? Schedule a short period in your day for that and then move on.

Interestingly, it is said that the high profile technological master and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, only checks his emails until 10:00am each day. He believes that he is more productive when he hasn’t got this distraction. The American News Network CNBC believes that the average office worker now spends over 6 hours per day checking both their work and personal messages. It is said that the late Apple genius, Steve Jobs, didn’t let his children use an iPad because of the dangers of technology and its addictive and unhealthy nature.

I have found that turning my emails off has genuinely been helpful in clearing my mind and leading to greater productivity and being an alert practitioner. Try to turn off your notifications on your phone… all of them!

On most computers and phones, the email symbol is an envelope of some kind. Some of you may remember the days before email, when we sent messages by post. That happened only once a day. So have the same attitude to your email as you do with your post. If someone has something really important to tell you, believe me, they will find a way of getting that message to you.

Technology does so many wonderful things to help us, but as a species, I really believe it has all happened so fast, and we haven’t acclimatised to how to cope properly with it, so that it doesn’t dominate our lives.

My advice:

  • Turn your phone notifications off.
  • Remove work email from any device that you have access to outside of the school building.
  • Think carefully as to whether an instant reply is necessary – or can it wait.
  • Set a time, once a day only, to check your email (ideally in the mornings) so you can be a productive practitioner for the rest of the day.
  • Do less e-mailing… better!

Chris @the9to5teacher has been a primary school teacher in the South West of England for 8 years. Most of his experience is in KS2 and he is currently a KS2 and Maths Leader. This year he is focussing on ‘doing less better’ and has begun blogging his findings at 9to5teacher.com.

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3138 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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