Demystifying project communications for students (part 2)

kermit the frog looks at screen of Mac laptop

**crossposted from Celeste’s blog**

This post expands on my previous post about some of the basics of project communications, with the idea that these can be helpful references for students who are new to doing project/community/client work. In this post, I want to talk a bit more about time (which makes my historian heart happy!) and managing expectations.

The obvious: people are busy. People lead complex lives. It’s incredibly rare that anyone has huge swaths of time dedicated to one thing and one thing only. And scope creep is all too common.

The idea of “working hours” is fraught and complicated: technology affords us the ability to respond quickly, at all hours, to issues as they pop up. And lots of folks find there are certain times of day when they’re more productive (night owls, early birds…why are these all bird related?)–which is great. But it becomes a problem when these start to create implicit expectations about responding on demand or at any time of day. The responsibilities people have in their lives outside of their academic or professional selves are present and important, so finding ways to be open and realistic about communication is key. Here are some ways to do the best you can to keep project work contained on a personal level, and work with others toward solid practices:

  1. Think about how you work, how you manage tasks, and meet deadlines. Write down when you think your most productive hours are and what is realistic for you in terms of being able to turn around responses.
    1. Example: I know that I’m best from 10-2 for generative work (writing, coding). I check emails 3 times a day (9a, noon, 4p) for ideally 30mins. I respond in those windows of time and try my hardest to avoid checking email outside of those times (I fail at this all the time, but I strive toward this goal daily).
  2. At the outset of a project, ask how the group prefers issues and notes to be communicated.
  3. Discuss with your collaborators what the expectations are for responding to emails, issues, messages, etc.  
  4. Do what you can to triage and manage incoming and outgoing communications. A couple examples:
    1. I use Boomerang (Gmail, Outlook, Android): I schedule the emails I write at 11p to send to collaborators the following morning at 9am when I know they’re at work or in their productive hours.
    2. Manage your notifications: for example, I’ve turned off push notifications for email because email is a huge distraction for me, but I’ve turned on push notifications for Slack because I know those are usually more time-sensitive messages.

The hardest part of all this is sticking to the boundaries set. But, setting and maintaining those boundaries helps deter burnout and unfair encroachment on collaborators’ time, while managing the expectations of all involved. Just because it can be done right away by you, does not mean that it needs to or should. Busy is not a virtue in itself.

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