Since the World Wide Web made its appearance in 1992, and e-mail use jumped beyond military and research institutions, this communication tool has spread so quickly it is hard to imagine how we ever got along without it. Love it or hate it, the new medium has reached maturity and is now a factor in the time management task of everyday life.

According to a study conducted by the Xerox Corporation, the results of which were released in early March, more than half of modern office workers now prefer to share information electronically rather than face to face. It would appear that trustees of theological schools are not very different: 58 percent ranked e-mail as their preferred communication tool in a survey conducted by In Trust during the same period. Phone calls were preferred by 16 percent, mailed letters by 14 percent, faxes by 9 percent and instant messaging by only 4 percent.

The In Trust survey indicates that nineteen out of twenty trustees of theological schools now use e-mail regularly. Ninety-seven percent of them have used e-mail for more than a year, and half have used e-mail for more than four years; 12 percent say they have used it for more than a decade.

Almost 80 percent of trustees receive more than fifty e-mails per week, while 17 percent report e-mail volume of between fifty-one and one hundred e-mails per week and 23 percent say they receive more than one hundred e-mails weekly.

A tenth of the respondents say they reply to e-mail immediately. About a third say they respond once a day. Seventeen percent say they occasionally use an assistant to handle their e-mail but one took pains to explain his assistant is “my wife.” By curious coincidence 17 percent also reported using filters to automatically sort e-mail into different folders, categories and levels of importance before dealing with them.

Almost a third described email as “empowering,” 13 percent said energizing, 10 percent helpful, 8 percent overwhelming, 6 percent useful and a range of adjectives were volunteered, including: necessary, effective, essential, convenient, impersonal, time-consuming, not needed, and “a fact of life.”

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that respondents are almost evenly divided on whether e-mail has improved their board’s decision-making process: 52 percent said yes, 45 percent said no and 3 percent said it made no difference.

This profile of e-mail use that emerged from In Trust’s survey indicates both pain and pleasure from this new medium, which now generates an estimated 200 million messages a day in the United States and Canada. The most frequently repeated advice for other e-mail users is to delete an item after it has been handled. As one trustee put it succinctly “Purge garbage daily.” Several respondents gave their e-mail addresses for possible follow-up queries but added, pointedly, that their e-mail address was not to be given out or not to be used for commercial purposes.

Among the comments offered as “best practices” to share with other e-mail users were:

  • E-mail is great for general news/correspondence but some items/ideas are better “talked through by phone.”
  • If I don’t know sender I delete; don’t open.
  • Quickly delete. Just like a desktop, it needs to be clean!
  • By being proactive and giving out my e-mail address to those that I want to communicate with.
  • Need to shift more mailings to e-mail… saves time, money, and adds speed.
  • Keep e-mail always on (in background) and respond ASAP in many cases (to get a matter taken care of).
  • I have just started using e-mail and am learning computers. I am a real novice and have been instructed by my 81-year-old father to “get on line!”
  • I don’t let it control me. I manage it by only dealing with the ones I absolutely have to. “Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an emergency on my part.”
  • I generally do not give out my e-mail address to businesses.
  • Getting over having to open every e-mail. Learning to use the delete for stuff I don’t recognize.
  • I respond to the easy and urgent messages. I hold the more complex to when I have more time in the next three days.

From among those who do not use e-mail came the comments:

  • I don’t pretend that I have control over my life and schedule. But whatever problems my “busy-ness” brings, the situation would only be worse with e-mail. Almost everyone I know who uses e-mail wishes that they could get rid of it.
  • I rely on my assistant to access the internet.
  • What is the hurry?

Best Practice
At a recent meeting of new leaders of theological schools sponsored by the Association of Theological Schools, guest speaker Wilson Yates, president of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, offered this suggestion for reducing unnecessary e-mails: all e-mail sent to him from within his own school is read first by his assistant and then forwarded to him for action or response as necessary. Given the amount of the e-mail that she could respond to, the messages he had to respond to declined dramatically.

“The key to this process’s success lies in the fact that a great percentage of the in-house e-mail that comes to me is information she will actually need to treat. Needless to say, anyone needing to convey information directly to me alone can do so by voice mail or writing ‘confidential’ in the subject box,” said Yates.

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

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