Episode 68 – Better Internal Communication & Collaboration

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast I discuss the reason why internal department & team communication at schools tends to be terrible. This leads to stressed & overwhelmed teachers that struggle to find a balance between their personal and work life. To help combat this I share some lessons I’ve learned along the way to help take back control & various tools you can use in your schools to take your communication & collaboration to a whole new level.

Resources & topics shared in this episode include

  1. 168 Hours & Your Fixed Capacity
  2. The Email Nightmare & How to Control it
  3. Follow Up Then & Active Inbox
  4. Improving Communication with Slack
  5. Trello for true collaboration

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


[00:00:29] Jarrod Robinson: Hello everyone and welcome to episode number 68 of the PE Geek Podcast and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to have your time and attention. I say it over and over again, it really does mean a lot because time is the ultimate commodity and we don’t have enough of it. 

[00:00:46] Jarrod Robinson: In this episode I want to break down a little bit about how you can improve the internal communication that happens between you and other members of your schools or your PE department or your faculty or other teams that you belong to, to try and leverage the time that we actually have.

[00:01:04] Jarrod Robinson: A lot of the bad practice that I see in this space can easily solved for the use of a couple of modern day tools and a change in our mindset. So this episode will dive into what I do with my team to sort of leverage the time that I have and it’s something that all of us could benefit from, so let’s dive into today’s episode. 

[00:01:26] Jarrod Robinson: Now I think the first thing that we need to talk about is the idea of there being a fixed capacity and time is that fixed capacity. If you did the math we only have 168 hours every single week in which we can add things to our schedule. But the 168 hours is the raw amount of hours, it doesn’t include the amount of time you need for sleep or for family or friends. 

[00:01:54] Jarrod Robinson: What we tend to do is we tend to seep into those really important things such as family and friends and sleep and so on with our work commitments. More often than not these work commitments tend to increase in scope and the problem is that we don’t necessarily address them in a really smart and strategic way to be as sort of optimized as possible. 

[00:02:21] Jarrod Robinson: So this is something I want to address in this episode and first I want to break down more about what the right thing to work on and then give you a couple of ways that you can think about trying to improve them and then some tools that I use to improve those core things that we do on a daily basis. 

[00:02:41] Jarrod Robinson: Now let’s be honest how many of you are sitting there at 10 p.m. at night and you’re receiving emails and so on from your colleagues. Let’s be honest, I’ve been in that situation before, I’m getting emails, I’ve even sent emails at that time of the night and I mean it comes down to this idea of there being no boundaries around the time that you receive communication in the digital world and that can be a massive problem particularly when you’re dealing with people in different time zones and all sorts of things of that nature. 

[00:03:14] Jarrod Robinson: we have this tendency to want to react to all of them at the minute that they are received but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that creating these no go zones for accessing email and other communications has a massive impact on our ability to get rest, our ability to be more productive and our ability to then therefore be able to spend time on the things that really matter and I’m telling you now it’s probably not answering emails at 10 p.m. at night. 

[00:03:47] Jarrod Robinson:  So to help me manage this and therefore have better internal communication with my team I have a no-go zone between a certain period of time. Now this will depend on you and what you can do but I absolutely encourage you to do almost like a reverse alarm clock situation where at let’s say 6 p.m. at night or whatever the time is you choose an alarm goes off and you physically need to do this to condition it first, but at that point there is no communication to be taking place or for you to respond to or for you to send until the next alarm goes off in the morning. 

[00:04:26] Jarrod Robinson: By that very nature of setting these very big, these definite time line limits you will hopefully try and be more productive and efficient in the time that we have because there’s a law that says the work will increase in scope to fill the allotted time available. So if you’ve given 24 hours to be communicated or being open to receiving communications you will work within those 24 hours. But conversely if you limit that to say 12 hours and make it very hard rule that you will not respond to communication outside of that then you will absolutely work within those boundaries and you will get done what needs to be done, work always creeps to fill the space that we’ve given it. 

[00:05:19] Jarrod Robinson: The very same token, another thing that you can do is turn off notifications on your smart devices. You do not to be getting a notification ever that says you’ve received a new like on a Tweet or that you’ve even received an email. Then you are actually are acting on email in sort of like the thing that it’s not meant to be and that that’s the to-do list of other people. If you think about your emails they’re often things that people want you to do. 

[00:05:47] Jarrod Robinson: Well I want you change that mindset and be the one who makes a decision to go and open your email. So get rid of notifications, create these definitive blocking arrangements of when you access it and when you don’t access it and you’ll start to see some opportunities arise. 

[00:06:04] Jarrod Robinson: Alright, so once you’ve set up these definitive boundaries one of the things that you absolutely need to do is have a system in place to deal with email that gets through to you. Now I would go as far to say that one of the reasons why communication in your PE department or your school is out of control is because of the fact that you use email and your staff use email and your colleagues use email and they do it in some sort of process and means that really isn’t thoughtful and like I said before it probably means that you’re getting emails at 10 p.m. at night, early in the morning and when you get them you tend to think about them as things that you need to store and keep and remember for later. But the best thing that you can do is to have some sort of system in place to deal with emails. 

[00:06:57] Jarrod Robinson: Now I’m going to say that the absolute nirvana is being able to be at an inbox zero. Now it’s entirely possible. Inbox zero means that you’ve got zero emails in your inbox that you need to immediately respond to. It doesn’t meant that you’ve addressed everything but you’ve basically got nothing there that’s waiting for you when you wake up in the morning to deal with. 

[00:07:23] Jarrod Robinson: There’s a couple of real psychological benefits to that, I’ve helped a lot of people get to inbox zero and they may be a bit skeptical at first but when they get there it’s just immediate sense of accomplishment and that they’re on top of things and it changes the game in many, many ways. 

[00:07:38] Jarrod Robinson: So to help you deal with this overwhelm you have to start with a system. Knowing that emails going to be coming to you at all times of the day. I mean the first thing you can do is talk to all your colleagues and ban that, prevent that from happening, that’s one of the really important things to do. But if that doesn’t happen you need to ban it for yourself and for the times when you do address and open email which I think needs to be at designated periods, in the morning maybe, in the early afternoon then again in the evening, you have a system. 

[00:08:10] Jarrod Robinson: The system that I have when I open my email inbox to help me better deal with internal communication and so on is the very first thing that I do is I delete or archive things that can be deleted. So I do a skim through, I look at stuff. If it’s irrelevant or if it’s some sort of spam or newsletter I get rid of it, delete it or archive it. Most modern day tools allow you to archive and you’ve got sort of a huge scope to do that without worry about running out of storage, but if you do delete it. There’s probably things in there you do not need. 

[00:08:41] Interviewee: The second D in this list of things is I delegate it. So during these periods of time if I arrive across an email that can be addressed or dealt with by someone else and I shouldn’t be the person who’s dealing with this I get rid of it. 

[00:08:56] Jarrod Robinson: So delete, delegate. The third thing on the list is to respond. Now this is the part that requires a little bit of discipline. If you can respond than less than thirty seconds then you should absolutely do it. If it doesn’t take you ten minutes to do a response, respond straight away. That’s what that designated block of time is for, so you can get things out of your inbox and out of this mental burden that you have to sort of deal with them. 

[00:09:23] Jarrod Robinson: So first few steps delete, delegate, respond. As long as you can do it in about two minutes if not then you move on to the next one which is defer. 

[00:09:34] Jarrod Robinson: What I do is actually have a system where I can put emails that need more time and more response and maybe they responded at a different time period I put them into a different folder which is the defer folder and when I go back into my emails I check that folder once I’ve processed the inbox. I check the defer folder and I respond to those things accordingly. 

[00:09:58] Jarrod Robinson: Now you can get really advanced in this deferred folder part and you can have different folders for different periods of time or different topics and so on. But the point is that you get them out of the inbox. The inbox is this mental burden that you will suffer with and as you look through your inbox and think about all the million things you need to do what’s really beneficial is to get them out and put them in a place where they can be dealt with appropriately at the right time and in the right context and so on. 

[00:10:27] Jarrod Robinson: Now I use a tool for this as part of Gmail called Active Inbox. What it lets you do is put dates and times on emails. So let’s say someone emails and I have to send a reply by Friday and the reply has to be more detailed I would apply the date Friday onto that email and then I go about doing what I need to do, getting rid of it. 

[00:10:53] Jarrod Robinson: Now a tool that you might find useful to help you deal with the defer aspect is Follow Up Then. Now Follow Up Then is pretty simple, works in any email service so you don’t have to use Gmail or anything like that. But all you do is when you receive an email that you want to remember for later you forward it or CC or BC it to anytime, so let’s say you want to remember it on Friday and it’s Monday, you would put [email protected]. You send that email that you just received to that address and then you can take it out of your inbox. On Friday that email will return to your folder, your inbox that it is, like it had been received to you at that particular time. 

[00:11:47] Jarrod Robinson: Now that’s just the start of the sort of times that you could use. You could be more specific. So you could say something like [email protected]. So your email would be sent to you every third Wednesday. You could say twopmtomorrow@followupthen and the email will come back to you at 2 p.m. So this gives you ability to defer things out of your inbox and then have that mental burden freed up until they come back at the right time when you need to act on them. 

[00:12:19] Jarrod Robinson: So important that you have some sort of system to help you deal with overwhelming burden of emails which definitely contributes to a really poor internal communication. I mean because of the fact that there’s so many emails and people are bombarded and overwhelmed we lose things. People don’t act on what they need to do at the right times and internal systems and so on fall down. 

[00:12:44] Jarrod Robinson: So if you’re going to use email you need to have a system and you need to have some sort of way to stop people from feeling like they need to be responding to it at all times of the day because that’s not effective. 

[00:12:59] Jarrod Robinson: Now I would go as far to say that email has sort of reached its capacity. I mean email won’t disappear at any stage but it’s sort of got to point now where we’ve sort of outgrown what it was originally intended for and there are better tools out there now to help you collaborate and so on with your team. So I want to share those with you and showcase what you can do to replace 90% of the email that you send. 

[00:13:27] Jarrod Robinson: Now the first tool that I want to share with you is Slack. Now Slack was built from the ground up in the modern day to actually replace this need to emails on an internal basis between you and your colleagues. Essentially what Slack is a closed down chat room that applies only to the people that you invite. Now it’s been built from the ground up literally for the modern day teams. You’ve got people like NASA and all sorts of high end teams that are collaborating using it. But I’m also starting to see people in education circles use it as well. 

[00:14:07] Jarrod Robinson: Now to give you an example of how it works you basically create your team which would be your school name or your department name or whatever you want or your district name. Then you add users to that team. 

[00:14:21] Jarrod Robinson: Now inside of the platform is this beautiful experience where you can basically talk to people back in forth individually. So if you want to communicate with someone it’s like a chat room, you can talk back and forth between just that person. 

[00:14:33] Jarrod Robinson: Or the real leverage is when you things called channel set up. Now a channel can be anything. You create one around a topic. So if you’re in a school setting you might create a channel called Assessment. You might create a channel called Needs Confirmation or whatever you wanted. Basically you add people to those channels that that applies to. 

[00:14:58] Jarrod Robinson: Then when conversation’s happening in that channel it alerts everyone to that topic. So rather than sending emails like we tend to do where you just okay send it out to everyone and you end up getting an email, it’s got nothing to do with you but you were sort of in the loop because it’s easier to send to everyone then pick five people. This sort of eliminates that because you can be much more specific in who gets and receives the messages. So it’s really quite powerful to ensuring that only the right people see things and conversely minimizes the stuff that you shouldn’t be seeing. 

[00:15:33] Jarrod Robinson: The great part about Slack is that because it’s chat based you do get notifications as things happen but obviously you can turn all that off as well and it integrates with whole host of the modern day tools that schools are using. Let’s say your school uses Google Drive and Google suite of tools then you can integrate them into Slack. So as you’re typing to someone you past in the Google Drive link and will bring in that file for everyone to click on and collaborate on. So it sort of becomes this hub of communication around the collaboration that you’re doing with your school. 

[00:16:12] Jarrod Robinson: The absolute best part about it is it will minimize the amount of nonsense emails that you send into a medium that is much more in tune with the best way that we communicate that is sort of like the chat based option and that’s why chat is so popular and it will have the result of increasing the collaboration that happens with your team. 

[00:16:36] Jarrod Robinson: Now when I’m helping people get up with Slack one of the things that I encourage them to do a 48 hour shut out of email and replace it with Slack only. So invite the core people to test it out that you need to, don’t try and invite your entire school or hundreds of people. Keep it simple. Do a 48 hour ban around sending each other emails and replace it with Slack communication. Download the Slack apps to your mobile device or the Slack apps to your computer or whatever it is that you work from and you will see what I mean by having this internal communication which is far superior to email. 

[00:17:19] Jarrod Robinson: The second modern day tool that I use to improve collaboration and communication with teams is Trello. Now Trello is essentially digital post-it notes. I love post-it notes, the traditional ones, being able to write on them and stick them up and those sorts of things. But essentially Trello is that but on the internet. It’s done in such an impressive way that I’ve literally got rid of any need to actually use paper based post-it notes because the experience is so seamless across all my devices. 

[00:17:56] Jarrod Robinson: So when you log into to Trello you get the ability to great these things called Trello boards. Now a Trello board is around a topic or an idea or something that you want to collaborate on and then you add people to those boards. So in a school you might have a board related to things that need to get to done, sort of like a to-do list. Then you add the members to those boards then you add the tasks that need to be completed. People then, very easily, can go in, tick off tasks, add files, do whatever they need. It’s done in real time to update everyone else’s boards and so on. 

[00:18:45] Jarrod Robinson: So Trello’s been an absolute game changer for me both when I was working on organizing the Connected PE conference which happened recently. We had a Trello board for the conference and in the Trello board it was broken up into the various different tasks that made up a successful organization of that event. At a glance from any device we could see things, the people I was working with could tick off items and I could tick off items and add items and it just meant that we didn’t miss anything. 

[00:19:16] Jarrod Robinson: The same thing is true in some of the school-type organization that we do. We tend to miss things, we tend to forget things and the reason is that we use tools like email which are not very well designed for such things.

[00:19:30] Jarrod Robinson: So head over, check out trello.com. You’ll see very quickly how powerful it is when you create a board and invite a team member and start producing some items. The best part of it is it’s 100% free. 

[00:19:44] Jarrod Robinson: Same with Slack, head over there create a Slack team for your school and you’ll just see how powerful these two tools are on their own to sort of really improve internal communication. That’s what this whole episode is about, we could talk about other things but I’m going to see the reason why the internal communication could be improved is probably that it’s too reliant for email for 90% of things that could be done elsewhere. 

[00:20:12] Jarrod Robinson: So create some systems, create some rules, create some new tools that help you deal with this so that you’re not spent inside your email inbox at 10 p.m. at night doing stuff that has no impact to your overall goal and sort of takes you out of being as optimum as possible. 

[00:20:33] Jarrod Robinson: So thanks for tuning in, you can go and check out all the show notes and links to a video tutorial about how to use Slack and Trello and you’ll find those inside of the show notes at thepegeek.com/68 for episode 68 and I look forward to coming back to you in episode 69 for another feature with a teacher doing some incredible things with tech in their classroom. Alright, we’ll speak soon. Bye!


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