Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Take Control of Your Email in a Few Simple Steps

Do you spend too much time on email? Are you looking for a system that academics can use to manage email? In this blog post, I describe a system that will allow you to take control of your email.

After Checking a email inbox i had with my old ISP its all spam WTF!

Email is an amazing way to communicate with people around the world. But, it also can be a time-sink. Academics usually have to spend a lot of time on email. This amount of time tends to increase over the course of your career as you accumulate more students, colleagues, publications, and service.

A couple of years ago, I searched around for a system that would allow me to manage my email more effectively. I had thousands of emails in my inbox, and felt that my email was getting out of control. I found this post by Leo Babauta immensely helpful. The steps I describe below are based on this approach, but tailored for academics.

First, I describe what you can do right now to relieve an overflowing inbox. Then, I explain how to develop a system that keeps your inbox under control.

If your email inbox is overflowing, here are three steps you can take to gain control of it.

Three Steps to an Empty Inbox

  1. Create three folders: 1) Temporary; 2) Archive; and 3) Action.
  2. Take all of the emails that are more than 30 days old and place them in the “Temporary” folder. You will deal with these later, at your leisure.
  3. Start at the top of your inbox and make a decision about each email in your inbox. If you need to do something in response to the email, place it in the “Action” folder. If not, it goes into “Archive.”

If you ever find yourself with spare time, you can return to the “Temporary” folder and attend to any important emails in there. However, if a month has already passed, you probably do not need to respond to them. And, if you do need to respond, you likely will get a reminder about whatever it is you need to do.

If you are using your university’s email system and are running out of space, one idea is to create a gmail account and have a copy of every email sent to you sent to your gmail account. That way, you have a record of every email you receive in an easily-searchable database. If you do this, you can delete emails from your university account instead of archiving them, as they can be automatically archived at your gmail address.

Only place items in your “Action” folder that actually require you to do something. Let’s say you receive an email reminding you about an event. If that event is not yet on your calendar, you can put it in “Action” until it’s on your calendar. Once you have it on your calendar, it is no longer an “Action” item. Now, it is on your calendar – which is a much better reminder system than your “Action” folder.

Once you have a nice, clean, empty, zen inbox, it’s time for you to implement a system to deal with email on a daily basis.

How to Manage Your Email on a Daily Basis

  1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning. One of the best ways to avoid email turning into a time sink is to do other important things first.
  2. When you first check email for the day, process each item in your inbox. Emails should fall into one of these categories:
    1. Respond immediately: Emails that require a quick response “Yes, I can review that article.” Or “No, I can’t make that committee meeting.” If it takes less than a minute to respond, answer the email. Then, archive the email.
    2. Action items: These are items that require a bit more effort. Perhaps you have to check your schedule to see when you can deliver a talk next semester. That might take a bit of planning and though. Place these emails into your action folder.
    3. Archive: These are emails with information that may or may not be important. If it’s interesting or relevant, read the email. If not, archive it.
    4. Other folders: Ideally, I would have just those three categories. However, I also have two other folders that are more or less useful. I am the chair of a major committee, and find it easier to place all emails related to that committee into one folder named “Committee.” I also frequently receive news articles and updates related to immigration that I want to read. I place these in a folder called “To read.” I have yet to actually read any of them, but it makes me feel better to have that folder.
  3. Quit your email. Once you have processed all the emails that came in over the night, and responded to the most pressing ones, quit your email program and focus on something else you need to do, like prep class or write that grant proposal. It is not a good idea to have your email on all the time as it is distracting.
  4. Check your email periodically during the day (fewer times is better). Set aside at least one of those times as the time you attend to your Action items. You see, the action folder will work a lot better if you know for sure that you are going to do your action items at some point during the day.
  5. At the end of the week, make sure that your inbox and action box are empty. Your inbox definitely should be empty. Ideally, your action box will be empty too. However, I often let emails sit in their for a while because I am making a decision about something or have yet to write that letter of recommendation.
I recognize this system is not perfect, but it is better than no system! What about you? How do you organize your email?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How a professional editor can help your writing

When I was in graduate school, I met with one of my mentors – a new Assistant Professor – and asked her if she planned to submit an article based on a recent talk she had given. She told me that the paper was too long and she was considering hiring a professional editor to get it from 10,000 to 8,000 words. I was astonished.

I had no idea that academics used professional editors, and something about it did not seem right. The idea that an intellectual would pay someone to do their intellectual labor did not sit well with me.

It was not until many years later after I finished graduate school and had a job of my own, that I came to see the benefits of using a professional editor. I realized that editors do not do intellectual labor for you. Instead, they polish your prose and allow your intellectual contributions to become clearer. Moreover, I began to use an editor myself. I realized that, whereas I may have great (even publishable) ideas, I had not learned how to present them in the best possible form, and a professional editor could help me with that.

In this post, I will discuss three of the benefits to using a professional editor. 1) Many academics do not have the skills to edit their own work. Using a professional editor is one way to teach you those skills. 2) Professional editors are just that, professionals. This means that they can edit your work quickly and professionally and save you time. 3) Using a professional editor can help you get more work under review, and, ultimately, published.

Edit Ruthlessly

Using a professional editor will improve your writing.

Most graduate programs do not include any writing training. As a consequence, many academics are not very good writers. We split verbs, dangle modifiers, use too many adjectives, use long and convoluted sentences, misuse words, and misplace punctuation marks. Using a professional editor will help you to see which errors you most frequently commit, and to correct them. The first time I used an editor, I learned grammar and style rules I never had known before and realized that I repeated the same errors over and over again. The best way to find out which errors you commit most frequently is to have a professional edit your text and tell you.

Using a professional editor will save you time

For those of you on the tenure clock, time is of the essence. The less time you spend poring over every detail of your article, the quicker you can get it under review and accepted. Paying a professional editor  to turn your almost-finished article into a well-polished piece of work can be a fantastic investment. It is no secret that many academics are perfectionists. Paying someone to do the final editing can take off some of that pressure to be perfect and save you a lot of time.

Using a professional editor will help you get more articles accepted

A well-written paper gives you an edge in the peer review process. When reviewers receive papers that have grammatical errors, it turns them off. Many think that your grammatical carelessness could be indicative of carelessness in other areas. If you write “loose” instead of “lose,” or if you code a variable incorrectly or did not transcribe your interview quotes or archival documents with precision, reviewers may look down on this. On the other hand, having an article free of grammatical and stylistic errors allows reviewers to focus exclusively on the quality of your work, and not on your minor errors. Even if your article is not accepted, the feedback you receive will be more useful as the reviewers’ critiques will not be influenced by their negative opinions of your writing.

Have a nearly finished article on your desk that you are nervous about sending out? Consider sending it to a professional editor to help you get to that last hurdle of finishing and submitting it.

How to find a professional editor

I often receive emails requesting recommendations for professional editors. There are five editors that I can recommend, and I have listed their information below.

There are at least three levels of editing: (1) developmental editing; (2) editing for style and content; and (3) proofreading. Developmental editing is the most time-consuming and costly and requires the highest level of expertise. Proofreading involves fixing errors and editing is somewhere int he middle.

Like writers, editors have different styles, and it can be hard to find one whose style matches your own.

Each of these professional editors are people that scholars have recommended to me. Here's a brief description of their services, as well as their contact information:


Kate Epstein has helped many writers bring their books into the world. She'll point out the weaknesses in your arguments, show you how to use structure to make your writing easier to read, and all the while cheerlead for your work. Assistant Professor of Sociology Joan Maya Mazelis at Rutgers University wrote, "Whether early or late in your writing process, whether you need help hashing out ideas and figuring out what you want to say or you need line-by-line editing services to make your arguments clearer and stronger, Kate is an excellent developmental editor!" You can find her at or email her at

I've really enjoyed working with Kristy Johnson: she's fast, knows her stuff, has an eagle eye, and brings what I have found to be very useful insights to my writing (in other words, she's not afraid to tell me when I make no sense). So the next time you find yourself in the final stages of writing a manuscript you've read one too many times, let Kristy give it a fresh look, clean up your mess, and get you one step closer to publication! I no longer send out an article without passing it by Kristy first, and my nerves are the better for it. You can email her at

Kristy S. Johnson –MFA in creative writing, Freelance Editor for 12 years.
Focuses: Dissertations/Thesis, Academic Articles/Book Chapters, Book Proposals, Job Applications, CVs/Resumes, Fiction and Non-Fiction Books, etc. Field focuses: Humanities, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology and other Social Sciences, Linguistics, and Education. Services & Fees (non-book length): Proofreading/Copy Editing, $4/page, Content Editing, $5/page, Content/Copy Editing, $7/p; Book length quotes negotiable. Dissertation Flat Rate (150-250 pages): $800, 1st pass only, 2nd pass review $100 chapter.


SCRIBBR is a proofreading service designed for theses and dissertations that can also be used for articles. SCRIBBR is a great service especially if you are on a tight timeline, as they work with a pool of editors and can turn your work around very quickly. The service is high quality and very professional. 

I sent SCRIBBR a 6,000-word article I have been working on for some time.  The editor, Elaine, found many errors that I had overlooked and suggested several places where I should insert citations. I am much more confident about sending the piece out for review. The proofreading price was also very reasonable at 114 euros for a 72-hour turnaround.

Morelia is an English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English translator who specializes in producing thorough, high-quality media and academic translations. She also offers editing and proofreading services and takes great care to provide quality work for your media and academic needs.

Contact info:

--------------------------------- If a professional editor is not within your budget, I can recommend Grammarly - a Chrome extension and tool that automatically checks your grammar. You can get either the free or premium version. Grammarly finds most typographical and even stylistic mistakes. I have been using the premium version as a Chrome extension and it has found mistakes in my blog posts, email, and social media posts. It is kind of like the Word grammar checker, but a much better version of that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Ending your Work Day Right Can Boost Your Productivity: Take Stock and Stop Working

I have been known to go on and on about starting my day right – with two hours of writing. And, I still believe that two hours of daily writing is one of the “open secrets” to my success.

It is also important for productivity to end your day in the right way, and to be sure that you do end your work day.

The first step is to decide when to stop your day

We are not machines, and we cannot work 24 hours a day. At some point, we have to end our days. It is much less exhausting to consciously end your day and decide ahead of time to stop working than to try to keep working, but find your mind, eyes, and fingers diverting you to other tasks.

Personally, I end my day in steps. I stop writing before lunch. I stop answering work emails and doing administrative tasks after 6pm. I stop all Internet activity at 8pm. And, I stop reading when I get sleepy.

It might sound counterintuitive, but deciding when to stop working (and to actually stop working) can make you more productive.

Stop working so you can be more productive?

Yes! I stop writing before lunch because my ability to write clearly and quickly after lunch is extremely reduced. If I try and write after lunch, I am only half (or perhaps even less) productive than I am in the morning. Since I have lots of other tasks I need to attend to, it is much more productive for me to do those tasks and get back to my writing the next morning.

I stop answering work emails and doing administrative work after 6pm for two reasons. The first reason is that, by that time, I am tired. This means I am prone to making mistakes. Making a mistake over email usually means I have to either rewrite the email later or, even worse, spend two or three times the amount of time cleaning up the mess I made. So, it is not productive for me to respond to work-related emails in the evening. The second reason is that I need to consciously end my day so that I can take stock of what’s done and what is not done so that I can plan and prepare for the next day.

Each day, at (or around) 6pm, I look over my to-do list for the day. I cross off what I have done. Then, I make a new list for the next day that includes the items from my weekly plan for the following day as well as anything that either didn’t get completed that day or that came up during the day. That way, even if I didn’t complete all I intended to complete in a day, I don’t have to let my unfinished tasks take up mental space. Instead, my tasks are written down on a piece of paper and I know I will attend to them the next day.

David Allen writes about the importance of getting things out of your head and onto paper to clear up mental space, and I find this to be true. Once I write down what I need to do the next day, I don’t need to worry about forgetting to do it or making a plan for when I will do it. I know I will attend to the task the following day. And, if not, it will just get bumped to the next day. And, so, life goes on.

I also try to enforce an “all screens off” policy in my house at 8pm. Since I start writing early in the morning, most days, I am on the computer nearly all day, and I need plenty of time to recuperate. Thus, even though I might think I find it entertaining to read the news or the blogosphere, shop on Amazon, or mess around on Facebook or Twitter, the truth is that these activities are not actually relaxing. Instead, turning off all of the screens is beneficial both for me and for my kids.

After the screens are off, my kids and I can talk, finish up homework, make art, or read. The only work I will do in the evenings is reading – there is always more to be read. I try to treat myself to a novel when I can, but academic work is so much better at putting me to sleep!