You certainly didn’t sign up to be a camp director so you could read and send emails all day. But it sure feels like that’s all you do sometimes! The sheer quantity of emails coming in and out of a camp office, especially this time of year, can not only be time-consuming, but it can take you away from extremely important parts of your job. Instead of succumbing to email overwhelm, try these four tactics to help make email work for you.
Use Your Out of Office—Even if You’re Technically in the Office
I have recommended this to hundreds of camp leaders over the years, and those who tried it swear by it: Put up an “Out of Office” auto-reply as soon as your camp season starts. The message should have a friendly greeting and a line or two about how you are out and about and not sitting at your desk because the camp season has begun. Then, you can have different sections answering frequently asked questions (hours of operation, mailing address, important links for payment or registration, etc.). Then explain when you plan to check your email (something like “every four hours” or “three times a day, after meals”), so the writer has a reasonable expectation of when to expect your reply. Finally, conclude with an “urgent message” number, encouraging the writer to call if they need something quickly.
If You Want a Record of Something, Email It
One of the great things about emails is that they are written documentation with a timestamp! This can be super helpful as a camp director for things out of the ordinary or controversial. Here is an easy example: Say you run an overnight camp, and a parent calls to request that they pick their child up early from the camp session to attend a family wedding. After the phone conversation, email the parent to summarize the plan. This way, both of you have all of the details in writing for quick reference when the time comes for the early dismissal. This is also a great technique for trickier situations at camp. Say there is a parent who has an outstanding balance, and you’ve talked with them on the phone to explain that they need to pay their camp fee by a certain date. A kind email summarizing the phone conversation is helpful to them and to you—and gives you the documentation you need to make a decision if the balance is not paid by the deadline.
Schedule Email Time, and Stick to It
Have you ever ruined your night during the camp season by checking your email just before you go to sleep? I have–many times. There’s the long note from the disgruntled parent of the counselor-in-training who was sent home early for breaking camp rules; there’s the angry parent whose child’s rain boots did not make it home at the end of the session; there’s the note from the counselor who you thought was going to work the whole summer saying she has to leave early to move into her dorm. But guess what? None of these problems are going to be solved tonight. The only thing that will happen is a loss of sleep or anxious dreams about moving a whole truckload of rain boots into the dorms. Instead, use the OOO hack above at all times. If there’s a real emergency, leave a phone number that can be called for immediate assistance.
During the camp day, a lot of your time can be eaten up by getting lost in your email inbox. Instead, do your emails in batches. I recommend sometime in the morning (at day camp, perhaps about an hour before the campers are set to arrive); mid-day (easy to correspond this with a camp’s rest-hour period); and at the end of the camp day. Otherwise, let your OOO do the work!
Pre-Draft Your Most Common Responses
You likely find yourself sending the same emails over and over again. However, a personalized email from a client (especially a caregiver) usually merits a personalized reply. There’s a way to make yourself more efficient while still giving correspondence a personal touch. Create a list of your most commonly emailed questions.
For me, these are questions about our bus (location, time, what to pack), camp activities (how to sign up for certain activities, how to pass the swim test), sending letters and packages to camp, and the camp store. After you create this list, write up all your answers in one place (or copy and paste answers over from your sent folder of previously written emails!). To keep this simple and organized keep all these answers in a Google Doc, Word file, or even as email templates (here’s how to do that in Outlook). When you get an email with a common question, all you have to do is compose a custom intro and conclusion—just copy and paste over your prewritten text (or use a draft!) for the question part. It’s as easy as that!