Month: February 2020

In all fields of interest

Dover editions of Bizet's Carmen, Euripides's Bacchae, and Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Three Dover editions from my library

“For sixty years, Dover Publications succeeded with a unique business model and a founder who was willing to defend that model against changes to copyright law that he believed threatened to undermine it.”

This is a Permanent Book” by Karin Falcone Krieger

Like many English majors in college, I acquired a number of Dover editions over the years through used book sales and direct purchase. Gods know how many I utilized in my studies at the college library. It saddens me to hear about this vital institution coming to an end.

A single yellow daffodil

I, consumer (February 20, 2020)


Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.

Benjamin Franklin, quoted in Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard


So there it is. What news do political junkies demand? Outrage and gossip. Why? Because it’s alluring. What news do we avoid? Local news. Why? It’s boring. What do we think of our partisan opponents? We hate them. Do we really hate them? No, but politics is more fun if we root for a team and spew anger at the other side. It’s easier to hate and dismiss the other side than to empathize and connect to them. When do we vote? When there’s a spectacle. When do we click? When politics can be a frivolous distraction. When do we donate? When there’s a cocktail party or a viral video. What are we doing? We’re taking actions not to empower our political values but to satisfy our passion for the sport of politics.

Eitan Hersh on Hidden Brain, “Passion Isn’t Enough: The Rise Of ‘Political Hobbyism’ in the United States


What happens when we apply intentionality to the act of taking photos?

Anxiety is the theme of all our lives these days

File this under “my new favorite bands.” Spanish Love Songs hits my existential dread buttons in just the right places. I especially love this line:

“Can’t even have my coffee without exploiting someone…What would it take be happy?”

Today was definitely one of those “I’m not alive until I’ve had three cups of coffee” types of days.

Another post about email, but this time with recommendations


As the head of outreach for an academic library, I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to communicate with other people. Most of my job involves bringing people together, managing projects that involve multiple units, and keeping the right people in the loop at the right times.

Determining the best method of communication is worth a little extra time and hand-wringing: do these people respond well to meeting invites? does this person prefer a phone call? when is the best time to reach them? do they typically reply to email quickly or slowly?

Like most modern offices, email is the predominant form of communication in my place of work. I’ve come to dislike email more and more over the years but I’ve also spent considerable time developing a very particular style of emailing that, for me, tends to produce the best results.

I created the following best practices document for my team. I hope you find it useful as well. A list of sources for many of these ideas is at the end.

Email tip #1: Lead with your ask 

Determine what action you want the recipient to perform or what piece of information you want them to provide. That request should appear within in the first three sentences (and end with a line break). For example:

Thank you for meeting with me today to review the draft of our event poster. Can you confirm by Friday if we are OK to print?  

Email tip #2: Keep it short 

The shorter your email the more likely it is that someone will respond. If you need to include a lot of information, consider creating an “appendix”. For example: 

Thank you for meeting with me today. Here is the draft of the document we discussed (below). Can you confirm by Friday if this is Ok to print? 

Email tip #3: Use formatting to highlight the most important info  

Recognize that many people will be powering through their email as quickly as possible. The easier you can make it for them to scan your email, the better. Use bold, bulleted text (lots of bullets), hyperlinks (for additional info), frequent paragraph breaks, and headers to make it easier for your reader to identify the most important information.  

Email tip #4: Use clear subject lines  

Cryptic or unclear subject lines cause more anxiety and confusion than interest. A good subject line summarizes your email so the recipient knows the gist of the content before it’s even opened. Is your email an invitation? An ask? Just an FYI or “for your records” type of email? I prefer to always lead with context and end with an action or ask. For example:  

  • Common Book: Selecting our shortlist nominations – deadline March 1 
  • For Tom Jarvis: An invitation to be a 2020-21 Faculty Pub Night Speaker 
  • LNAP 2020: Where are we on the donations from housing? 
  • FYI. Lali has approved the following events. No action needed. 

Using unique phrases, dates, and proper names also makes it easier to find later. 

Email tip #5: Don’t make your recipient do the work 

Give your recipient clear outcomes or expectations about how you want them to respond to your email. You might even consider giving them a list of options. For example:  

Hi Matt, 

I’m so glad you’re on board with being a participant in our workshop next week. I need to finalize the catering so can you please let me know which of the following options you prefer?  

A) Light fare and tea 
B) Coffee and dessert 
C) Champagne and cake 

You should also offer a “default” option in case they don’t respond, e.g. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll go with Option A.

Email tip #6: Be thankful of their time and attention 

This probably goes without saying, but always recognize that email sucks our attention away from more impactful work and thank people for taking the time to consider your request. 

Email tip #7: Move people to BCC when they need to be dropped from the chain 

If someone is on the CC line and they no longer need to be on the message, move them to the BCC line and note that you’re doing it in the email. For example: 

Since Javier and I have this covered moving forward, I’m going to drop James into the BCC line (thanks James!) … 

Email tip #8: Edit ruthlessly 

If you can cut anything, cut it. If you can make it shorter, make it shorter. Realize that many people will hastily read your email or possibly read it on a mobile device (30% and growing at mpow).

Email tip #9: Tell people what you plan to do next 

Always let people know what your next action will be once they respond to your message. For example: 

Tom, can you confirm that this class is coming to our event tomorrow? Once you confirm, I’ll let our event planner know so we can reserve their seats. 

It’s also good to let people know when you will follow up. It puts pressure on them to respond sooner. For example: 

Tom, can you let me know what the next steps will be re: the website migration? I understand you’re busy with other projects, so I’ll follow up with a phone call in a week if I don’t hear from you. 

Other things to note 

Email is not chat (Pick up the phone or use chat) 

If you have more than one ask, if you expect your email to generate a lot of replies back and forth, if your ask is time-sensitive, or if you have an ask that is sensitive or complicated, consider using the phone instead. If it’s simple enough, use chat. If you have anxieties about calling someone, ask yourself: What anxieties do I have about this ask? The answer might be revealing. (Note: that same question can be asked whenever you hesitate about sending an email… the answer can help you clarify your ask) 

Email supports our work, but email is not work.  

If you’re spending most of your time emailing people, you’re probably not focusing on the right things. (This may not be true for all work in higher ed, but most of it). You might also be unnecessarily making more work for other people rather than doing the work yourself. Most of all, emailing doesn’t count/matter until you’ve closed the loop on the issue. 

Avoid emailing after hours. 

This one is tricky because not everyone works the same hours. For sure, don’t email after hours and expect a response. If I do find myself writing email outside normal business hours, I usually save them as drafts and send them during the next business day. There is some evidence to show that emails sent late morning are the ones most likely to get a response (because by then people have had a change to clean out their inboxes). More importantly though, emailing after hours sets up unhealthy expectations within your team and with your colleagues.

Recommended Readings

Ubi sunt

This evening, I had the pleasure of attending a discussion between Brian Stelter, host of the CNN show Reliable Sources, and Carol Costello, former host of CNN Newsroom. Their conversation floated effortlessly over, through, and between topics such as misinformation, the impact of mainstream media outlets like CNN and FoxNews, the Trump presidency, the intersection of journalism and entertainment, and social media. At one point in the conversation, Stelter reflected upon how social media has changed in the last decade, from the heyday of blogging and SMS-based Twitter to the notably ugly situation we are in now.

As someone who moved into adulthood during the emergence of “Web 2.0,” I often catch myself looking back longingly on the internet of the 21st century’s mid-aughts. Many of my friends and colleagues built careers, passions, and communities of practice that propelled them to where they are now through the connections they built in these proto-social media spaces. Some of those friends and colleagues have now left those spaces behind, leaving them to the wolves of hate, cynicism, and always-on indignation. These things have always existed on the internet, but their pervasiveness now feels unstoppable. It feels woven directly into the fabric of the web. To go online is to experience violence.

Nonetheless, I still have a small hope that we can make it through this time into something less violent, less polarizing, and less destructive to our civic discourse. I don’t know what that thing will be, but when I reflect upon how much the digital landscape has changed in just 10 years, I can imagine something entirely other taking its place in the next 10 years; and I invite it to arise.

Two years ago I quit LinkedIn. Last year, I erased by Facebook footprint. This year, I’m slowly letting go of Twitter. I don’t miss these things as they are in their current states, but I miss what they used to be (well, except LinkedIn. That was always a mess). Most of all, I miss the hope and optimism many of us held for these platforms.

The door in my head remained wide open

This video hits close to home. I think most of my anxiety about work can be attributed to a habit of ruminating rather than recharging. This quote in particular struck me as telling:

“We don’t stress about work at work the same way we stress about work at home.”

Guy Winch

I’ve been giving more thought to how I can do better at compartmentalizing my job. I’m forcing myself to sleep instead of working an extra 2-3 hours every evening. I’ve turned off push notifications from almost all of my mobile services. Moreover, I’ve been working to stop thinking of my profession as a part of my identity.