School Emails And The Napoleon Technique

When it comes to getting things done then sometimes it is better to not actually do anything.

This might sound like a recipe for disaster but when we postpone things we can sometimes increase our productivity. Some things don’t need our immediate input to get resolved.

This postponement tactic is called the Napoleon Technique.

The name comes from a story told in “Napoleon; or, the Man of the World”, by American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his collection “Representative Men”.

It relates to Napoleon’s habit of waiting for three weeks before opening letters, unless it was clear that they were truly urgent and came by extraordinary couriers.

“It was a whimsical economy of the same kind which dictated [Napoleon’s] practice, when general in Italy, in regard to his burdensome correspondence. He directed Bourrienne to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself and no longer required an answer.”

In modern day terms you could apply this technique to not answering any non-urgent emails you might have and let them resolve themselves. Delaying a response by just 24 hours might be long enough to allow most minor issues to be resolved by the sender themselves.

Everyone thinks that the email they’re sending is important but that’s for the receiver to decide.

Certainly for busy school leaders and teachers, email inboxes can be full to bursting but they don’t all need attending to and so the Napoleon technique could be used to devastating effect.

You don’t need to a reply all-coholic and you don’t have to reply to any message you receive immediately. Emails are your biggest time-waster (Osman, 2015).

The main idea behind the Napoleon method is to filter out things that don’t need doing right now (or at all) so that you can save valuable time and energy.

Of course there are things to be weighed up adopting this approach and we need to think about any negative outcomes there might be by postponing. If there is a likelihood that postponing will lead to serious negative outcomes then it’s a technique worth avoiding.

We shouldn’t use this technique as a way of avoiding what needs doing or burying our head in the sand but it certainly has its place.

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