According to every productivity blog ever, checking your email first thing in the morning is the worst thing you can do. You might as well crack open a beer and fire up your XBox, they say, because once you look at your email you’re not going to get anything done.
I exagerate, but starting your day the email way is regularly put down – even though most of us do it. Is checking email after waking up really so bad?
Well, according to Duke Professor of Behavioural Economics Dan Ariely, the two first hours after you wake up are likely to be your most productive.
One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity.
Research shows you’re at your best the first two hours that you’re fully awake, and looking at your email probably isn’t a task that requires you be at your best. So there’s a certain logic to all those blog posts advising you to put off the inbox.
But if you scroll down from any such post you’ll find the same rebuttal in the comments, every time: “This isn’t practical for me.” Whether it’s customer concerns, directives from management or other information about the day’s work, for many people email is a necessary part of the morning routine.
So: is it possible to use most of your first two hours productively, while also not missing anything important? Yes, but you need to have a plan.
You’ve Got To Have An Exit Strategy
It’s important to remember that technology doesn’t have to control you. Sure, it’s possible to lose two hours every morning by checking your email, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. Advising people to ignore their email in the morning is, in a way, blaming a communications protocol for an inability to prioritize. Some people might find email so overwhelmingly distracting that they need to put it off entirely, but that doesn’t mean doing so works for everyone.
Maybe, for you, email is an important step in planning your day. That’s perfectly fine. But if you find that email is dominating your morning, put off as much of the email process as you can until later. Personally, I’ve noticed going through email has three stages:
- Deleting what I never, ever want to read. Newsletters, PR pitches, etc.
- Reading through everything else, archiving anything that doesn’t need a response.
- Responding to all emails that require it.
My trick: I never do all three of these things at once. Here’s how it works for me, but know that to really get through emails quickly you should learn the keyboard shortcuts for your email client of choice.
1. Sort It Like Strong Bad
If I must check my email in the morning, I start by deleting the crap I don’t want to read.
This usually doesn’t take more than a minute. Once I’m done with this morning cleanup, I close my email and do something else. Cleaning the dishes, say, or doing a 7 minute workout. The idea is to clear my head a little, before getting to the next stage.
2. Read Everything, While Archiving
When I’m ready to get back into email, I’ll read everything in my inbox – but I don’t respond to anything. If something doesn’t require a response from me, I archive it. If some message points out a task I need to do later, but doesn’t need a response, I’ll make a note of the task before archiving. And if an email needs a response from me, I simply skip to the next email.
Doing this means I can get through all of my emails in a few minutes, and there typically aren’t many emails left: four or five, on average. But the important thing is I have the rest of my morning to be productive – my replies can wait.
What’s Your Email Plan?
This plan won’t fit everyone, and I’m not saying it will. My point is that you should try to have a plan, whatever it might be, to deal with email quickly. If you need to look at your email first thing in the morning, find a way to get in and out quickly so you can make use of your two first hours doing something else.
I want to know: what’s your email plan? Do you take actions to reduce the overload? What about mornings: do you dive right in, or try to put off looking? I’d love to hear about your workflow, and potentially learn about it, so let’s get chatting in the comments below.