Checking email at designated times

I’ve thought a lot (more) about how I operate since reading The 4-Hour Workweek. One big part of my life, and probably everyone’s reading this, is email. It was almost like a game refreshing Gmail, trying to spot the elusive ‘Inbox – (1)‘. I’ve stopped playing that game! I suggest you do, too.

The problem

When you’re constantly checking email (or constantly being distracted by some sort of notifier) either two things are wrong:

  1. You aren’t doing significant work – You’re bored, you have nothing better to do so you go to see if there’s something you can read, respond to, etc. Email was dictating me. It turned into my todo list. That’s wrong! I need to control my own tasks. Email shouts ‘urgent’ but not always ‘priority’. Unfortunately we treat it as such.
  2. You’re wasting time on a task that can be batched – Batching is putting together a lot of the same tasks into one dedicated activity. You don’t go shopping for an individual cucumber do you? You don’t run out to grab a bottle of ketchup when you notice you’re running low, right? No, you make your grocery list and go shopping maybe once or twice a month.

So why do we treat email like something that constantly needs to be addressed? Well, if you keep treating it like it’s a necessity it will become one. People will get used to instantaneous responses and continually flood you with (usually) unnecessary email.

The proposal

I’ve started doing this myself and I’ve realized the world won’t come crashing down on me. I only check my email 4 times each day.</p> <ol>

  • First-thing (8:00am) – See what the rest of the world (including EST) has left in my inbox for the day.
  • Mid-day (12:00pm) – Now it’s time to see if there’s anything that came up in the morning that needs to be addressed this afternoon.
  • End-of-day (4:00pm) – Has anything else come up? Any last things to take care of before business-end?
  • In the evening (8:00pm) – Some things arise at dinner, not usually. This is when more personal emails come in (people came home, jumped on Facebook, etc.)
  • </ol>

    These regular intervals line up with everyone else’s day, right? You can focus on your major tasks of the day and take care of email when you’re good and ready.

    I find I’m spending less time sitting around and more time focusing on my priorities. And guess what? Nothing has suffered. If people need me immediately they know my phone number (its on the bottom of every email!).

    The reservations

    Now, this might not work instantaneously in a business environment but you can certainly talk to your boss about it, right? Ask them to try it and show them how much more productive you can be. Let them know you don’t tolerate time wasters. Heck, do a dry run without telling anyone. You can check email like usual, but </span>keep track of the number of things that absolutely had to be taken care of right then and there. If you see an email come in that can wait a few hours: ignore it.

    The thing to keep in mind, though, is that communication is important. If you don’t communicate your intentions this might not work well for you. If people think they can still get to you at any time then they’re going to think something is wrong. Tim recommends you kindly let people know you’re addressing email at certain times so that you can better serve them. As always, they can call your cellphone with an emergency.

    The challenge

    Why not try it? Since I’m between jobs right now I haven’t had this experience with my new employer, but I intend to. It’s done well for me working at home (and with personal email). Like I said, instead of looking at my inbox for a task I now look at what’s really important (in my task list).

    In fact, in the last few weeks I’ve found that 4:00pm usually doesn’t hold much email waiting for me. I can probably check three times a day, instead. That’s my goal starting next week.

    So, tell me: why are, or aren’t, you going to try limiting your email to designated times?