Thrive on Campus//

Avoiding Email Overload During Freshman Year of College

Respond in Batches, Pause your Inbox and Plan Ahead to Keep Email Distractions

Courtesy of TierneyMJ / Shutterstock
Courtesy of TierneyMJ / Shutterstock

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Soon enough, summer vacation will be over and millions of high school graduates will be taking the next step to college, where they will be using email a lot more frequently than high school students. Managing emails for multiple classes while getting daily updates from the university can get overwhelming. On average, email users receive 147 emails per day, and they don’t stop when in class or studying. If incoming freshmen are not organized and accustomed to receiving a large number of emails, it can be easy for them to become distracted by the constant barrage of messages that are popping up in the corner of their laptop or making their smartphone buzz.

Without an organized inbox, students are also more susceptible to missing important deadlines and required forms that may be critical to college success and their well-being. There is no worse feeling than dragging yourself out of bed to a 9 am lecture only to find out that you’re the only one there because you missed an email from the professor letting you know that class was cancelled. If there is a worse feeling, it may be missing an email that affects your college performance, like failing to drop a class before the deadline.

Too efficiently manage their inbox, new college students should consider the following:

  • Respond to Emails in Batches: After a long weekend attending college football games and meeting new friends, students may end up with an overloaded inbox. Research shows that in 20 minutes, you should be able to clear about 51 emails from your inbox. Start at the top and work your way through all of those campus updates and event messages. If it takes longer than three minutes to take care of, archive it to be addressed later. Always keep your focus on the next email in your inbox, making sure each message gets your full attention for a brief amount of time.
  • Pause Your Inbox: If a student has a major assignment due for one class, stopping all emails from other classes may help them finish that assignment quickly and efficiently. There are third-party email apps that allow users to pause their inbox until they’re ready for it, so they can minimize distractions and remain focused on the important task. Another option is simply turning off email notifications when it’s time to get that term paper written and handed-in.
  • Plan for tomorrow, today: At the end of every day, students should spend some time reflecting on the past day and planning what they need to take care of tomorrow. That way, they can determine how much time is needed to complete an assignment while their mind is still plugged into today’s work. How to do it? Students can set up a calendar appointment for themselves, blocking out 10 minutes at the end of each day to check their email and ensure they are prepared for the day ahead. This technique is especially effective if they keep an organized task list where a glance would help them determine everything that needs to get done.
  • Schedule reminder emails for yourself and others: College is full of deadlines and missing them usually carries a cost to any student, let alone a brand new freshman.  Freshmen need to get reminded to turn in their projects and papers by the due dates, to pay bills on time, and to submit their course-related paperwork by various department deadlines. They can set up these reminders as calendar appointments or scheduling email reminders with a tool like Boomerang.

Starting college can be an overwhelming time for many young adults. Moving to a new place and living with strangers can be a difficult adjustment, never mind adapting to a different schedule and dealing with the added workload. Email is meant to be used as a tool that simplifies communication but can easily become a disorganized nightmare if the proper steps aren’t taken. For most freshmen, this is the first time they are sorely responsible for managing all communication from a financial aid officer, living groups, or academic departments. Those students that do commit to efficient email practices will benefit from less stress and more time enjoying the perks of being a college student.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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