Email Workflow for Teachers

September 17, 2013

Our lives are so busy. Teachers are working to a deadline every hour of every working day. Keeping on top of emails is important, but I find that I only have time to read and write emails a few times a day – in the morning, in between lessons, and in the afternoon.


I keep my email inbox empty. Every time I open the inbox, I open each message and read it. A lot of messages just need to be read and filed away. I decide if anything in the message needs further attention. If a message has action that I can do in under two minutes, I try to do it immediately. (That’s a Getting Things Done [GTD] mantra.)

I have three main labels for things that require further action: @reply, @review, and @to-do. I use @ signs in front of these labels because it ensures they always stay at the top of the labels list.

I tag @reply messages and make sure to reply to them before I go home that day. Our school has a policy that we must reply to parents within 24 hours.

The @review label is for information that I know I need to spend some time digesting but I can’t do it in under two minutes. Things like an article I want to read or a link to a blog post. I use the @review items for those times when I have a few odd moments waiting for something or at the end of the day in my reading and thinking moods.

The @to-do label goes on things I have to get done. I go through the messages every morning and afternoon and try to attack the biggest thing that I have time for each time. Or if I’m just between lessons or meetings I try to attack three little things. Usually I keep the list manageable so there is no need for excessive prioritizing. When the list gets too long, I dedicate some evening or weekend time – but this is rare.

After all the label tagging, I archive everything in the inbox. An empty inbox keeps my stress down. And knowing that I have seen all my “open loops” and categorized them allows me to focus on jobs at hand instead of worrying about what else I will need to do later.

What is your email workflow?

3 Responses to “Email Workflow for Teachers”

  1. Mr. Chase Says:

    Great post, Sarah. Saw your link on twitter #MTBoS.

    LOVE love love GTD, and I try to practice it too. I’ve been doing fairly well at zero inbox.

    Here’s a feature I feel like every email client should have: *delay delivery* Here’s why:

    1. When I send an email to someone, I am often waiting for an action or reply on their part. So I forward my email to myself, also, so that it will arrive a week in the future. If the recipient has taken the necessary action or made a reply, I can just delete my email, if not, I send them a quick email reminder.

    2. Second use: Administrator emails out a modified schedule for next Wednesday but I really don’t need it until Wednesday morning at 7:00. So I forward the email myself in the future, so that it arrives right when I need it.

    The first use helps me maintain the open-loops that require waiting. The second use helps me safely ignore things that I don’t need to think about more than once.

    As David Allen says, you don’t want to think about something more than once, unless you like having that thought.

    *on a technical note: Outlook’s desktop client has delay delivery but its web and mobile clients do not. Gmail doesn’t have it, but you can get a nice plugin called Boomerang that does the trick pretty nicely.

    • I agree that delayed delivery would be wonderful. I have heard that the app Mailbox does this. Have you tried it? I would also like to have an expiry date on emails. For example, when I get back from holidays, I don’t need to read about the tea and biscuits party I missed a week ago. It would be great if for inconsequential events the emails would expire and delete themselves after the event.

  2. Mr. Chase Says:

    The expiration date on emails is a good idea too, yes. In general, I think there’s a lot of room to improve the GTD-related functionality of email clients. Email hasn’t changed that much in the last few decades.

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