Email Behaviour

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Have you ever considered your email behaviour(s) at work?

This blog will suit those interested in statistics, analysis and email workload.

At our school, in September 2015 we started using Gmail by Google. It was difficult to understand at first, but like anything, works even better  once you understand its power!

It has a lovely little ‘add-on’ which automatically analyses and emails a report once a month. I have found it quite fascinating over the past three months to understand my email behaviour. I know as a deputy headteacher I am teaching much less than I am used to, perhaps sending many more emails too, so I am very conscious of what I am sending, why and when. I know that teachers who are teaching full-time will have much less time to read and reply to a constant email flurry from all staff, never mind senior teachers!

I have blogged before about an email protocol for schools. In that post, I recommend the following to help with teacher workload:

  1. An expectation for checking emails and when not to …
  2. Email etiquette; reply; reply-all …
  3. All staff emails.
  4. Server solutions
  5. Forwarding and Bcc.

In the remainder of this post, you will find an analysis of my email behaviour over the three months.

October Overview:

  • 672 emails sent by me to 176 people
  • 1041 conversations: 660 were important and 58 have been starred. I have started 20.46% of them and have replied to 29.83% of the others.
  • 1268 emails received: from 218 people; 62.46% were sent directly to me.
  • Consider one week less at school for half-term.

November Overview:

  • 891 emails sent by me to 171 people
  • 1276 conversations: 682 were important and 46 have been starred. I have started 25.16% of them and have replied to 31.94% of the others.
  • 1553 emails received: from 220 people; 67.61% were sent directly to me.


Jill Berry‘s words in her presentation, ‘Why Would Anyone Want To Be Led By You?’ from #TMLondon 2015 are still resonant in my ears;

 … days are for people and evenings are for policies”.

I’d like to add, that emails are for outside of teaching hours too, but not exclusively, After all, emails are sometimes urgent and deadlines need to be met. We should all remember, that face to face often works best, especially when written messages can sometimes be misinterpreted!

shutterstock_354202718 Businessmen Under Pressure

Image: Shutterstock

Every member of staff will have their own working habits that suit them; some schools may have policies that insist that every teacher checks their emails at least once today (or more). Whatever is it, emails are certainly to blame for an increasing workload!

I spend the vast majority of my time after school, evenings and mainly 1 or 2 hours on a Sunday evening, reading, deleting and (trying to rarely) reply to emails without the need for further ‘one-liners’ or with questions that require yet another email. I aim for a zero-inbox, but I’m no email-superstar. With all the fuss about teacher workload, recruitment and retention, no wonder email-culture is a key area of concern where we can all pinpoint blame!

December Overview:

  • 500 emails sent by me to 146 people.
  • 743 conversations: 336 were important and 19 have been starred. I have started 24.09% of them and have replied to 32.09% of the others.
  • 857 emails received: from 184 people; 67.56% were sent directly to me.
  • Consider two weeks of emails lost over the holiday season.

You can click each of the images for a clearer picture.


Here is a snapshot of my daily traffic. Most emails arrive (bottom left) from 6am until midnight, with peaks at 8am, 11am and 4pm. The traffic for the month (bottom right) shuts down as school was closed for the Christmas period.

Email Analysis Gmail

Days of Week:

I send most of my emails on a Tuesday. I’m delighted to see that I send very few at the weekend. Of course I am conscious of who I am replying to, ensuring that emails are directed to senior colleagues (if needed), companies and less so for teaching colleagues who really do need the weekend off.

Email Analysis Gmail

Response Rate:

With 857 emails received for the month of December, my typical response rate (bottom left) is 1 hour or more. Sometimes I leave emails in my inbox until I have re-read, actioned or filed. I’m pleased to say, that my responses typically contain 10 words or less. Perhaps I could give people the answers they need face-to-face, but what if everyone needed a quick answer; a yes to go-ahead with something. Worse still, people chasing me for answers who do not work on-site with us. For example, companies, consultants and providers. It’s good to see my emails with 200 words or more are less than 5%.

Email Analysis Gmail

Who’s Who?

40& of my emails received are sent from people outside of my organisation. Typically, the emails continue for 10 words or less and contain a thread of 5 responses. I do believe these emails could be reduced further by picking up the phone. However, sometimes it is just not possible to do so when the bell rings or duty calls …

Email Analysis Gmail

Further Reading:

In 196 emails from December 2015, I have received even more reading to do, with at least 200 attachments. Typically, these are PDF files with 50% of them coming in from outside the organisation.

Email Analysis Gmail


So, there you go. An insight into my email inbox last term. The next time you send an email, consider the real purpose of its content.

No wonder teachers are stuck to their desks and offices more and more. Email culture has certainly kept us all away from students, classrooms and colleagues because we are now spending half of our time cutting through the waffle, working faster and faster and expecting more information from each other.

It’s not how many emails you’ve sent, it’s more about the ones you can delete, or the emails you decide not to send, there the more important ones to me. Let’s keep teachers away from their computers and devices. Let’s all work a little smarter.


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12 thoughts on “Email Behaviour

  1. Interesting analysis as always Ross, thanks. I’m writing a post at the moment about management by mail. I hear too many stories about SLT members who rarely get out of their chair to speak with colleagues and simply ping out their edicts from their leather chairs. I understand as you say, for clarity, to sometimes send emails but for some, it’s the only way they work. Like anything tech-wise, email is a tool to be used when appropriate; not as a be all and end all.

  2. Good post. My biggest hate is ‘all school’ emails when staff can’t be bothered to look at timetables.

    Also, people could use the topic bar (probably not the right terminology) to state what it is about so as as reading and deleting can be done in a more decisive fashion.

  3. On the negative side – I worked as a union rep in a school where the management was in dire straits and not trusted by staff. Emails were used to record for evidence! Secondly as a union rep I monitored emails all day as sometimes I had to react to prevents problems escalating (this approach was sanctioned by the Head). The problem I had had to intervene on the most was SMT / LG sending emails to teaching staff that required immediate or short time response.

    1. That’s appalling that this has happened. Emails are ‘property of the employer’ but I’d imagine emails would only be investigated if it was needed, not for day to day monitoring.

  4. For those of us with a school smart phone or access to school emails from their own smart phone, this could mean emailing on the move, not just at your desk. Just a thought.

    1. Therefore using your own device for work purposes. Where does the boundary end? When will we accept no more ‘response required’ even when we know people are always connected? And will our schools pay for our bill? Worse still, esafety and student data/content on my phone.

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