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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

Email- The Swamp of Sadness

Evening all,

Some of you of a certain vintage may remember a movie called The Neverending Story (spoiler alert, it ended). Anyhow, there's a scene in this movie which scarred me as a kid when a lovely white horse gets stuck in a swamp, gets sucked down, and drowns. The swamp in the movie is called the Swamp of Sadness (content warning, not fun even though it's a kid's movie).

Now, I have a particular weak spot for animals dying in movies- I have burst into tears in no less than 3 movie theatres after watching animals die in movies. And after struggling with the inexorability of emails wandering into my inbox/swamp, I also feel like crying. (Not really, but follow me here). It's the difficulty, and occasional impossibility, of being able to drag my white horse (emails) out of the swamp which wrecks my head.

I had an interesting discussion last week with a few academics about using Microsoft Teams, and how many of them hate it. I get it. They want peace, and thinking time and all that good stuff. So do I, but I also have a job which requires me to be on top of a hell of a lot of moving parts, so for me being able quickly keep parts moving is crucial. People need things to keep their own work moving, so I try to act as a lubricant and to do that I need to be able to deal with the simple things simply. So when I have a complaint that can be fixed with a 5 minute teams chat (I ALWAYS ask first before calling), I want to do that. Ironically, that 5 minutes saves multiples if I have to do it another way- emailing the person, waiting for a response, back and forth, delays at every point, emails sinking down into both of our swamps. When people talk about cognitive load, it's not the thinking stuff that is taxing- that is fun. It's the RAM required to keep track of all of these things- to do lists, flags in emails, pure memory. It's all taxing.

For most big-ish stuff I use something called to-do ist, which also let's me capture my own half-baked ideas (including those for this blog). But email is the worst. Impossible to capture actions well, terrible search.

So that's why I particularly hate it when people send me an email with a simple request! SEND IT IN TEAMS FFS! Give me a call, I'm very responsive. But please don't type out a formal email "Dear Kane,". It's a waste of your time, and mine.

I think email has become this beast where people lose sight of the task, thinking "Email sent, my work here is done." No it's not. You've probably created work for yourself and for others, and you've extended what I've started to call "the tail" on any given task. Like most dragon hunters, I try to chop the tail off. I try to focus on completing tasks, even if they're small, and eradicate anything pointless which prevents completing the task. Moreover, I much prefer to have a chat with someone than respond to email, a format famously good for conveying tone.

I get not everyone is like that, gaining energy from a chat, it's something to think about, how we actually agree on ways of working between colleagues. But if there is ever a Moratorium against email march, I'll be there with a great big placard.

Lastly, two small things. First I'd like to thank Shaun for writing his post last week- I hope you all found it thought provoking, and I hope he keeps provoking thoughts in future blog posts.

Second, unbeknown to me, a bunch of people wrote (what I'm told) are incredibly lovely things when they nominated me for an award at the International Centre for Academic Integrity annual conference. As it turns out, I won.

If you had anything to do with this incredibly generous and collegial act, thankyou. I hope I get to repay the kindness.

Until next time,


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Colin Simpson
Colin Simpson
Mar 20

Dear Kane, Thank you for this post. Congratulations on your award. regards Colin

Kane Murdoch
Kane Murdoch
Mar 20
Replying to

Also, if I had a thumbs up button I would have just clicked that!

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