What does our email say about how we spend our days? Last December, the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, who blogs for TLS, posted a recap of a day’s worth of email from her inbox. The summary gives you a sense of what Beard called “a Don’s (real) life” and what she’s asked to think about over the course of a more or less regular day.
Now it may or may not be interesting to read somebody else’s email. Doubtless you have plenty of your own to get through. But as Dan Cohen said when we were discussing it on Twitter, opening up the inbox is “a vicarious ‘take your readers to work’ thing.”
Following Beard’s example, I decided to try it myself. What follows is an account of 24 hours’ worth of work email I received from noon or thereabouts on Feb. 22 to noon on Feb. 23. Like Beard, I’ve omitted spam, boilerplate announcements/PR releases, and messages from the listservs I subscribe to. (Some of those messages are engaging but not useful for my purposes here.) That’s close to a hundred emails I won’t inflict on you–about typical for a day. I also belong to a lively publishing list that sometimes generates dozens of emails a day; I left those out too. What follows also doesn’t include my two personal email accounts, one of which I use for other writing-related business.
FYI, with privacy and trade secrets in mind, I’ve omitted names and details that would reveal too much about sources or stories or in-house business. If you decide to undertake your own #openinbox experiment, let me know.
1. Message from a library source telling me a pending announcement hasn’t been made public yet.
2. Note from a publicist about a major publisher’s e-textbook venture.
3. Update from the news editor about Thursday’s news stories.
4. Announcement that a visiting administrator has arrived.
5. Editor’s draft of the intro to a package of stories for next week’s issue, with request for feedback.
6. Note from a copy editor saying he’d get a blog item I posted earlier in the day.
7. Photo from a source for a forthcoming story.
8. Reaction to said photo from photo editor.
7. Note from editor with a link to an online video of a talk given by someone I’m profiling. Editor asks if we can use link. (I say yes.)
8. A how-to-register email from a summer camp I’m considering for my kids.
9. Response from editor to my thumbs up about the video link.
10. Forwarded announcement about the impending retirement of a university-press director, with question from news editor about whether we should cover it.
11. Response from books editor, saying she’ll note it on the publishing blog unless anyone objects. (We don’t.)
12. Update from section editor on a blog lineup for Thursday.
13. Exchange with another editor about copyright news out of Canada. (I’m wondering what to do with it. She says we already blogged it.)
14. Note from a source thanking me for RT’ing something he put on Twitter.
15. Question from editor about a conference in early March. Any interest in going? (I would but I’m on call for jury duty then.)
16. Response from a source to a quick fact-checking question I had for a story going to press.
17. Note from kids’ school about the upcoming school auction.
18. Response from a copy editor saying it’s okay to go back into a story to tweak something.
19. Note to section from another writer about a blog item he wants to do. What do we think? (We think it’s a good idea.)
20. Reaction from an editor to a pitch I’d forwarded that looked like a good candidate for a Q&A feature. Likes it but is dubious about its chances.
21. Note from night editor that there’s food on the premises.
22. Note from editor about revised blog lineup.
23. Gratitude-inspiring, late-night email from a source with several ideas in response to a call for help I’d sent him.
24. Response from editor about colleague’s blog pitch.
25. Another fact-checking exchange with source.
26. Note from an academic who’s written an op-ed and wanted my thoughts on whether the paper might be interested in running it.
27. Pitch from a PR person at a British university with some embargoed research news.
28. Announcement from a local publishing specialist about spring workshops/mentoring for scholarly authors.
29. Note from library source with a heads up that another publication has taken the op-ed he sent us a while back.
30. Another round of emails about colleague’s blog post.
31. Response from a source to a question I sent a couple of weeks ago, with apologies for the delay. Can’t confirm the rumor I was asking about.
32. Exchange with colleague about a symposium I thought would interest her. We also pick a day to have lunch.
33. Back-and-forth with colleagues about a headline for story package going to press.
34. Note from layout/art editor about when we’ll have pages to proof.