Return of the Information Diet

Returning to a topic I mentioned at the end of a post from 2014:

Spring has sprung in this part of the world, sort of, and there are four weeks left in the semester. So, in addition to (slightly) warmer weather and more daylight, the workload is ratcheting up — giving me a stronger urge to procrastinate. I compensate by doing some spring cleaning. And simplifying my information environment does allow me to be more productive.

So far I have I unsubscribed to a half dozen mailing lists — that generate emails I don’t read or that announce events I never attend — and deleted perhaps a few hundred electronic files. I’ve also started weeding through paper files in my office. A photocopy of a policy from 2012? There’s either a new policy, or the old policy is available online, so into the recycling bin it goes. And I’m setting aside books for eventual sale on eBay. The end result? I waste less time searching for what I’m trying to find and am less distracted.

And on the subject of distraction, I have been deliberately shutting down my email for long periods of time during the day. As a department chair, I have a “respond within twenty-four hours” policy with students, but for the most part they email to schedule in-office appointments so that I can sign forms (we lack modern conveniences like electronic signature capability for even the simplest bureaucratic tasks). I propose a few potential times in my replies and the appointments get scheduled with little fuss. Other faculty prefer to have appointment sign-up sheets on their office doors, an equally efficient method. But the bulk of the email I receive from official university sources can either be immediately deleted or does not require my immediate attention.

Another aspect of this process for any faculty member who will eventually be applying for tenure or promotion: when sorting through files, whether paper or digital, set aside material that demonstrates your contributions to the university and to the discipline. Store it in a safe, marked location. In my case, the material includes that classroom observation report from a senior colleague in 2015, the smattering of appreciative emails from alumni who enter graduate school, and the advertising flyers for campus presentations of my research. All of it goes into a box or a backed-up digital file folder for me to sort through once I start putting my application together and need reminders of all that I’ve accomplished. Until then, I can forget about it.