The Gmail survival guide for busy teachers

Email feels like it consumes our lives. But there are ways busy teachers can make it work for us! Here are some tips. (Public domain image via

Does it feel like email consumes your life — or too much of your time at school or at home?

I once heard someone describe email as “requests for your time for other people’s agendas and not your own.” There’s definitely some truth to this.

Seems like the textbook example of educators’ use of email is to check it often, respond whenever and spend lots of time doing repetitive email tasks.

If your inbox owns you, it drags you back in time after time without feeling like you’ve accomplished much of anything when you’re done.

But if you can tame your email and have it work for you, you have more time for the things that matter most — professionally and personally.

Gmail is the most popular webmail client and is still growing by leaps and bounds, boasting a user base of 1.2 billion in 2017. With G Suite (Google Apps) for Education topping 70 million users, there are tons of educators using Gmail every day.

Want to ditch your textbook use of email and make Gmail work for you?

Here are 10 actions you can take to whip your email life into shape:

1. Schedule emails to send at the end of the day.

Sending emails at a later time can keep you from replying over and over to an email thread — a huge time drain.

Ever get stuck in an email thread — kind of like a thread of messages on Twitter or a group text? You’re bouncing emails back and forth every few minutes because each of you sends replies immediately.

Pretty unproductive, huh? For me, I spend way more time than I need to in those email conversations.

If you schedule your email to go out at the end of the day instead, replies come in when you’re not at your desk. Answering emails at one (or a few) specific times instead of as they come in is something productivity experts suggest.

Schedule those emails to go out using Boomerang for Gmail. This free Gmail add-on adds a red “Send Later” button to your new message window. Send it at the end of the day and get to work on something important!

2. Suggest a course of action.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

“What time works best for you?”
“I’m flexible. Suggest a time. I’m sure your schedule is busier.”
“Next week works for me. Are there any conflict days for you?”
“I’m booked on Tuesday, but the rest of the week is free. Thursday?”
“Thursday’s no good. How about Friday? I have the whole morning free.”

Back and forth, back and forth until FINALLY you both land on a time and date.

It doesn’t have to be this way, says Tim Ferriss in the book The Four-Hour Workweek. “Offer a solution. Stop the back-and-forth and make a decision. Practice this in both personal and professional environments.”

Start with a solution, and if the other party says no or suggests another time, that’s OK. We don’t have to get trapped in the “scheduling shuffle” if we start with a solution.

3. Pause your inbox.

Pause your inbox with Boomerang and deliver messages only at predetermined times. This can be a huge boost to productivity!

I get owned by my notifications sometimes — on my phone and when I have Gmail open on my computer. A new message comes in and I switch over to read it. Then I answer it. Then it takes me forever to get back on task with what I was working on before.

Another feature of Boomerang to keep you at your most productive self is Inbox Pause. It stops messages from landing in your inbox (causing those distracting notifications) until you’re ready for them. Set pre-determined times for all of your email to be delivered.

It’s kind of like the mail carrier showing up at a specific time of day, but for your email.

4. Use the unsubscribe button — a lot.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that I was getting a ton of messages I didn’t really care about. They were from companies — Old Navy, Target, ed tech companies — who had collected my email address from a transaction or a sign-up. I kept getting their emails but wasn’t opening any of them.

That’s when I started seeking out the unsubscribe button. Instead of taking the time to archive or delete those emails, I just cut them off at the source. 

When you save yourself a few minutes a day, it can add up to hours every month or year.

5. Use a different email address to subscribe.

These days, companies covet your email address. They’ll give you discounts, coupons, free downloads and other means to get it.

I like free things, so depending on the offer, I’ll make the trade. But I won’t use my primary email address. You can always toss them a different email address — one that you don’t depend on every day.

6. Create filters in Gmail.

If you find yourself moving emails, archiving emails or forwarding emails in the exact same way every time, let Gmail do the work for you. Create filters that automatically take action on certain kinds of emails every time.

Using Gmail filters can keep you from taking the same action over and over again on the same kinds of messages.

Find filters under the settings cog: Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses > Create a new filter.

Specify the kind of messages you’d like to take action on based on who they’re from, who they’re to, subject, words in the message and more.

Then, from there, choose the action you’d like to take: archive the message, mark it as ready, forward it to someone, etc.

This way, Gmail is working for you and you’re working less!

7. Try Inbox by Gmail.

Google has created a new email client that streamlines your email life. If your school district has Inbox enabled, give it a shot. I did with my personal email and I’ll never go back! Here’s what inbox does that I love:

  • It bundles certain types of emails (like promotional emails, purchases and updates) in folders. You can open the folder to view them or, if you don’t want to look at them, you can dismiss/archive the whole folder with one click.
  • You can create your own bundles (kind of like filters above but easier).
  • It adds reminders to your inbox so you’ll see them.
  • You get the “Save to Inbox” feature. Ever email yourself something so you can hang on to it? Save to Inbox was created to streamline and organize that process.
  • Snooze messages to whenever you’d like so you can take action on them then.

Check out more information about Inbox here. If it’s not available in your district, it might be worth sending a message to your district’s Google admin to request that it be turned on in the admin panel.

8. Don’t reply all unless you need to.

I’d love to say that this one isn’t necessary anymore in an email productivity post like this. But, sadly, it still is necessary.

Here’s a public service announcement from everyone you send email to.

Reply = sending a message back to the person who sent you the email.

Reply all = sending a message to everyone who received the email you just sent.

Folks. Many, many times, reply all just is NOT needed. Ask yourself this question before clicking “reply all”:

What will happen if everyone does not receive the message I’m about to send?

It the answer is not “catastrophe” or does not involve serious irrevocable damage to your school or other people, consider just clicking “reply” — or not sending a message at all.

Your email recipients will thank you.

9. Talk to your phone.

This one has been blowing me away recently. I’ve been a little squeamish about talking to my phone. You know, using the “OK, Google …” or “Hey Siri …” feature or any voice commands.

Call me weird, but unless I’m totally by myself, I just struggle to get used to it. And when I use it, if the command is more than a few words, I freeze.

I’m forcing myself to get over it — because voice typing in text messages and emails is AMAZING.

I can type pretty quickly. But not nearly as fast as I can talk. For as much time as I spend typing emails, texts, blog posts and social media updates, voice typing saves me so much time.

In the Gmail app, click the little microphone on the keyboard to activate it.

Consider responding to emails with your phone using the voice typing feature. Or use some of the Chrome extensions available. Or set up your computer using its built-in dictation settings.

10. Set boundaries.

Think of your email like that obsessive, needy boyfriend/girlfriend you once had in your life.

Tell your email, “Listen, we need to talk. It’s not you. It’s me. (OK, really, it IS you.) We need to establish some boundaries because you’re consuming too much of my time. I promise this is in the best interest of both of us.”

  • Hide your email icon on your phone in a folder.
  • Turn off the notifications and check it intentionally.
  • Delete email off your phone completely. (Lots of people do this and just manage email on their computers — so it doesn’t become a digital leash!)

There’s no app for this. It takes a conscious decision by you and the willpower to follow through on it. But if email is consuming too much of your life and you’d like to reclaim those hours, it’s probably a no-brainer decision!

[reminder]What are your best email strategies? Which of these are you most likely to try?[/reminder]

Disclaimer: I am not compensated by nor under any obligation to Google, Boomerang or any other company to publish this post. I’m sharing it with you just because I think it will help!

For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links:

Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

[getnoticed-event-table scope=”upcoming” max=”15″ expanding=”false”]