Block 1: Week 3 Visualisation

What happens when I get an email ?

I was interested to see if I follow my strategy:

  • Read, or at least scan;
  • Delete if not to be actioned/archived;
  • Action immediately (otherwise, leave in Inbox);
  • Move to a folder (if useful later).


I selected variables I thought significant; I kept the number small to make manual recording manageable.

Results and analysis

What happens when I get an email ?
Visualisation key

How does this relate to my learning activity?

  • The visualisation uses limited, partial, self-reported data. It is of doubtful use without greater detail of its context. However, greater transparency may not be possible.
  • Removing ‘personal’ details takes away some of what is arguably more useful in addressing the research question.
  • I am aware of this data gathering and can control what I gather and share. This has affected my actions, and would likely do so if I suspected data was gathered about me as a student.
  • I have revealed my strategy, which I have judged my activity against. As a student, my data may be judged against predetermined ‘good’ behaviours (which may not be related to my individual context.)
  • The limited data is because of the research question and limits of the study; there is no decision about what data/question is important in a wider sense. Again, decisions about what data is collected about me as a student might not be about what is important, but simply what is convenient to record.

17 Replies to “Block 1: Week 3 Visualisation”

  1. Nice drawing! If 5 means Friday, am I right to interpret it as ‘you haven’t received many emails on Friday’, and you are probably more aggressive in culling emails on Monday (probably from the backlog that built up on the weekend?).

    1. Yes indeed. Monday is the day I see a lot of automatic reminders (which I have already actioned so can delete) and bulk email from externals (which I can safley delete – the subject tells me that). Friday is always quieter; some people work compressed hours or are part-time which accounts for some of this, and I have always believed that email sent on Friday are less likely to be actioned, so maybe others think that too and wait for Monday to contact me.
      I should reiterate, this has been an extraordinary quiet week and my strategy had been established to deal with much busier times.

  2. beautiful visualisation … it seems your biggest email days are Monday and Thursday … Friday getting into the weekend mode. It’s interesting how you plotted to really demonstrate the outcome even with simple data set.

    1. Thank you! I was interested to see how so little of my email actually resulted in ‘action’, but that’s probably because, at the moment, people are too busy to contact me with the sort of request that would lead to anything substantial, but the automated updates/newsletters come in at the same rate as ever.

  3. This is a really nice visualization. I’m fairly certain there are products out there now to help you track your email activity, in order to help reduce its burden. But what you have highlighted is that context matters a great deal, and that’s not amenable to quantification. Your point about ‘what is convenient to record’ is important here. The same, as you’ve noted, may well be the case with educational deployments of data analysis, and the kind of automated ‘judgments’ that might be made by comparing an individual to the ‘norm’ of behaviour assumed in the software. Is it possible that technical convenience in terms of recording learner activity/behaviour might drive ways of thinking about what learning is itself?

    1. Thanks, Ben. Yes, indeed there are products that would recognise, for instance, that I seem to always delete a certain type of email without engaging with the content, and suggest I unsubscribe or send it straight to a folder to read later. But it doesn’t know why I am taking certain actions or that my circumstances might change, and that making the choice each and every time is not a burden but an opportunity to exercise agency.
      Fortunately, the senders can’t see my actions because they may judge me (unfairly) hence I have been deliberately vague in my visualisation; as a student I may not have that control over the data I generate.

  4. I really like your visualisation. Easy to understand. There’s something very satisfying about those arrows sending deleted emails out and away from your nexus of activity. But there’s also a sense of spikiness – perhaps reflecting the annoyance of receiving too many emails? I could look at this for a long time!

    1. I was trying to make my drawing as intelligible as possible (given there are soooo many lines) so I used a fine pen (as you can always add more ink if you need to, but can’t take it away) hence the fine arrow heads.
      Am I annoyed at my email? Deleting things is a positive sign as it means I have done with something and have moved on (many are reminders that I didn’t need, as I have already actioned them or have them in my calendar to do). I’m making it look a bit more dramatic than it really is, because all that is really happening is that they move to the Deleted folder.

  5. I wouldn’t mind wearing a T-shirt with the same pattern. Thank you, Dima!

    Would you find it useful, if an app offered the same summary to you on a weekly basis? Would it make any difference?

    1. If an app sent me a message with the same information it would be one of those email that gets instantly deleted!
      Seriously, the fact that I have to go through this with each email without any support, is an opportunity for me to engage with the question ‘What should I do now?’ in a very conscious way. I think if I had an app I might partially disengage because the app is going to help me in some way.
      It would be able to tell me superficial things that I already know, but also might emphasise and make suggestions based on its understanding, which may not pertain to me.
      I think such an app would be useful if you just don’t know anything at all and want to get a start on analysing your email behaviour (especially if you have numbers far higher than I do) but you would have to be cautious about how you treat the data you get from it. I think when you do this manually, you know how incomplete and imperfect your data is, but you might trust an app more because it looks more polished, which is the problem.

      1. It makes a perfect sense to me, thank you. At work, I receive similar reports once a fortnight maybe. They pretend to analyze how much time I spent collaborating with colleagues, working with my mail box, this sort of stuff. Sometimes, I look into the data just to see whether my feelings about the situation are the same, and I must confess, they have never managed to surprise me….

  6. Your illustrations are beautiful! I find it interesting how you approach your emails, and how organised you are. Now that I think about it I almost never ‘delete’ emails (unless it’s spam)… I wonder if I should! Do you find this process to be very mechanical? almost automatic?
    I also like how you mention that this data is “limited, partial, self-reported”. This is true for most data, as we are select what we want other to see and interpret.

    1. Thank you! Of course, the idea that I have deleted my email is not quite true: they are in a folder called Deleted and I can always retrieve them if I wish (I don’t, but it’s good to have this safety net). This way, my Inbox contains only those things I am working on.

      I have been practicing this since just before we left our office to work from home. The amount of email I received started to grow dramatically, and time-sensitive message were getting drowned in messages that could wait. It was because of this I developed my startegy.

      Things are much quieter now, and I could be less systematic, but this means that I am concentrating my time and effort on the most important items, so I think I will stick with it.

      Is it mechanical or automatic? Well, it’s more of a guiding principle. If it was mechanical I would be happy to automate my process, but I’m not as I may want/need to flex my strategy to respond to some change. I do not do any of this without thinking or feeling (my govenors) and I wouldn’t know how to programme that into an automated system.

  7. Nice work here. I love the way you thought about the actions taken after reading an email. Your visualization is simple and conveys your message in a clear and easy-to-understand manner. For some strange reason deleting an email has never been an option for me because I have not really thought about it. Maybe one point of reflection would be to compare this with data on the same theme but collected by a software tool, you may find some interesting correlations.

    1. Thank you! I thought I would start with a simple visualisation for our first week and then move on to something more ambitious later.
      We had someone demonstrate how to handle email where I used to work. They prescribed a different method, which probably works for some, but wasn’t right for me. I wonder if I used an app it would be like that, nudging me towards better behaviours (as it saw it).
      If I could collect the data automatically, it could have recorded associated times (to read, to reply, etc.), senders etc. and if there was a variation in my behaviour over time of day/day of the week. This automation would probably be helpful if I had a large volume of email and had it analyse activity over a long period. But if it was to make suggestions, I would want to know the logic behind them.

  8. It makes a perfect sense to me, thank you. At work, I receive similar reports once a fortnight maybe. They pretend to analyze how much time I spent collaborating with colleagues, working with my mail box, this sort of stuff. Sometimes, I look into the data just to see whether my feelings about the situation are the same, and I must confess, they have never managed to surprise me….

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