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Technology on Your Side

Amy Weiss


Technology has both enhanced and complicated the ways in which academics engage with their work. The proliferation of online courses now enable professors to teach from practically anywhere. Digital humanities tools have transformed research methods and forms of analysis. Yet, these technological advances have certain drawbacks. Namely, an expectation exists—both imposed on scholars by themselves and by the academy—that technology has enabled them to be available around the clock. Just last week Times Higher Education reported on a Twitter debate regarding the appropriateness of academics who responded to work emails the same day their children were born. This essay offers suggestions on how to use technology to work for you and not against you, regardless of when and where you decide to check your email.

Email Away Messages: Academics are well-versed in the use of automated email reply messages when they are attending conferences or on sabbatical, informing colleagues that they will be responding at a slower rate than usual. Instead of only using an away message when you are truly “away,” I suggest utilizing away messages at times when you know you will not be checking your email frequently. You may be in the middle of the semester, but if you have a manuscript deadline looming or have friends or family visiting, your away message will let colleagues and students know to expect a delayed response. Often, such a message can encourage the sender to seek the answer to the question or problem posed in the email elsewhere. Even if you plan to your check your email frequently, an away message can serve as a reminder to you and others that you will respond as your schedule allows. Suggestions on what to include—and not include—in your automated response can be found here.

Appointment Scheduling: How much of your time emailing is spent coordinating dates and times for meetings? Although you can quickly shoot off these emails, the time spent managing your schedule can add up. Doodle polls reduce the need for back and forth emails regarding scheduling as they enable all meeting attendees to share their availability with others and determine a start and end time. Also, consider investing in an online appointment manager such as ScheduleOnce. This system integrates with your personal online calendar, enabling individuals to schedule meetings with you simply by clicking on a link you can include in your syllabus, website, or email signature. Although monthly pricing starts at $7.50, ScheduleOnce offers a two-week trial period.

Internet Access: The internet has revolutionized how research is conducted. With digitized archival material and online books, one does not always need to go far to work on a research project. Yet, if you have ever been in the midst of a writing session and found yourself going down a rabbit hole of information when you merely went online to look up a citation, for instance, you know the internet can also interfere with productivity. Several internet apps exist that enable you to purposely block access to the internet completely or certain sites (such as social media platforms) for a desired amount of time while you are writing.

What productivity tips do you recommend that enable technology to work for you and not against you? Let me know by writing to me at and I’ll include more tips in a future issue of AJS News.

Amy Weiss is the Grants and Communications Manager at the Association for Jewish Studies. She is also the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education at the College of Saint Elizabeth.