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A few years ago I read an article about emailing with military precision. This changed my approach to email starting with subject lines that include the “ask” (Informational, request, etc). These are all denoted in the signature of my emails (and found below). I also sought advice of a colleague who not only is a productive, well respected researcher and teacher but also a philosopher of all things academic. He suggests messages longer than few sentences are not appropriate for email and deserve a phone call or Zoom.  As such, my emails may be short and direct.  Please do not take offense – I am (like Jeff) trying to save all of us time.

  • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

If you would like to have a substantive conversation with me, great, let’s talk synchronously. Please check my availability here and then email me to request an appointment (via phone, Zoom, or in person) during a free time.

Finally, people sometimes wonder about when I send emails, when they can expect to hear back from me, etc. Here are some norms:

  • Sometimes, I send and respond to emails at odd times and/or on weekends. I do not expect others to do the same. In fact, I try not to email after 2pm on Friday or the weekend
  • I try to respond to emails within two business days of receipt.
  • If you need a response within one business day, you are better off calling me


We all get inundated with meeting and meeting requests. It is always a challenge for me and I suspect it is for most people. A few strategies that I will employ.

  1. Do we understand the problem and the solution? If so, the meeting probably isn’t needed
  2. Do we understand the problem but don’t know the solution? The meeting is probably necessary but only after people have received all the information on the problem and brainstormed solutions prior to the meeting (research supports individual brainstorming!)
  3. We neither understand the problem nor solution? Probably need a meeting to gather information on the problem
  4. I may ask you to send me a one-page description of the problem/issue prior to the meeting, so I can think about it beforehand and come to the meeting with some ideas about how to solve the problem. Doing some pre-work can make the meeting more efficient.
  5. Am I the right person to go to the meeting? Delegation is important and can be empowering and an hour meeting can be reduced to a 10-min “here’s what I’d like to you to do/convey” pre-meeting and then a 5-min “tell me what happened” post-meeting with a proxy.
  6. Does the person/issue require a personal connection? Sometimes people need to connect with you and if so, then that’s important to consider. There are times when that personal connection can be achieved via a phone call.
  7. I block the an hour in front of the day and end of the day. I block the front because sometimes mornings at home are chaotic and I don’t want to have to rush and be in the wrong mindset for a meeting. I block the end of the day so I can plan my next day and wrap up my day before going home. Regardless of timing, when I blocked time I don’t let people take it except in extreme situations.