Helping Creative People Create

Never Check Your Email First Or Last

I used to have this routine where I would check my email, go to bed, wake up, eat breakfast, and check my email again. I used to believe that this was the way to do things; by making sure I didn’t miss anything throughout the night. I figured that if I wanted to be productive during the day, I’d have to clear out the inbox first. And if I didn’t clear out the inbox at night, I’d be left with even more email to check in the morning. What started out seemingly as a great plan to control my email and become more productive, quickly turned into making my life more cluttered, unscheduled and less productive.

The Nightly “Mail” Check

Checking my email at night before I went to bed soon started to affect other areas of my life. The most obvious thing was that I was staying up much later than I planned. Email is great at distracting you, mainly because you can open it up and anything can be waiting for you inside. A work proposal, one of 10 uninteresting forwards from your grandma that day, a really weird Japanese game show video; anything can be in there. And because you can’t plan on what’s in there, you have to check it all. And it will distract you, mark my words. You’ll watch the movie, and then you’ll want to watch more because it was sooo funny, and pretty soon you’re no longer checking your email. Before you know it, you’ll have spent an hour “checking your email”, and you hadn’t really gotten anything done.I’ve fallen down this road many a time, and before I knew it I was finding myself up 2 hours later than planned. I wasn’t giving myself enough time for a good night’s sleep, and wasn’t able to wake up when I wanted to the next day. This is especially crucial because I’ve found that I’m most productive in the mornings. By staying up hours later than planned, I’d either be faced with waking up without adequate sleep or waking up later and missing those important productive hours.

The AM Bombardment

Now, if you’re like me, you live and die by your email. It is essential to my work life and personal life, and without it I curl up into a fetal position and start sucking my thumb. Naturally, you can see why I felt it was important to check my email every morning. So I’d cater to my email addiction and hop on the computer as quickly as possible, only to find again that I was getting sidetracked like the night before while burning those precious productive hours. This vicious cycle kept going until I started to do one thing; waiting to check my email until I had gotten at least one task done. I was inspired by a book I discovered on Amazon (thanks Gina) called “Never Check Email In the Morning“. By not checking my email until I had gotten at least one task done, I was forcing myself to become less dependent on my AM email fix, and to start controlling my inbox instead of having it control me.

Merlin Mann at 43 Folders puts it best:

Waiting an hour or so to collect the overnight haul buys me time to wake up, get some work done, and generally orient myself. By the the time I raise the electronic flood gate, I’m already feeling on top of things and have no problem blowing through all my mail in a few short minutes. Even the crazy ones

By not checking your email at night you’ll find that you’ll get more sleep, and you won’t really be missing anything too important anyway. And by not checking your email first thing in the morning, you’ll be more productive throughout the day. By taking control of your email, you’ll find how in the scope of things, you can easily check it less often and when you do you’ll get through your inbox faster, with a more deliberate purpose.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

directionzero August 8, 2006 at 2:04 pm

Wow, that is so true! I think I checked my email for hours last night before bed, and that is what I do first thing in the morning before I get to work. I have to stop myself from checking before I head out to work even.

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Nathan Lee August 9, 2006 at 2:19 am

So so true.. Although I’d widen the range and say “no computer while getting ready for work” and “no computer past midnight if you want to get to bed before 2:30am”

News sites and youtube are good timewasters when you “rediscover” them for whatever reason..

Nath

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kola August 9, 2006 at 9:00 am

I stumbled across the same book while in a bookshop and I live by it now – especially at work. When I get in the office I actually don’t open my email untill around 9/10 – reason being that I recieve emails from important people in the company General managers, CEOs etc. and you often feel compelled to respond to their emails as ASAP. Many of these emails result in doing some work, more than simply replying as a result it can quickly impact the work you planned for the day. By not having your email client open I manage to get some work done first thing and end up being more productive.

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Eunice August 10, 2006 at 6:57 am

I love this! I plan on forwarding this to my husband and all my friends….oops, maybe I’ll just tell them about it. Don’t want to add to their email burden! :)

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Claire Tompkins August 10, 2006 at 2:22 pm

Good post! I think an important point here is: don’t check your email when you aren’t willing to spend some time dealing with it. People think they’ll have a quick peek, but as you point out, that rarely works.

I’m going to write about this on my blog tonight. I’m going to refer to your post, but I’d like to know about you too. Who are you? I know your blog is new, maybe you haven’t had time to put up a bio. But it would be nice to put some kind of virtual face to your posts! Look forward to reading more.

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James August 10, 2006 at 7:48 pm

Well, ISP abuse departments expect you to respond to their alerts in a timely manner.

So if you operate dedicated servers, you need to check your email before and after going to sleep or risk server disconnection.

Some, like ev1, are reluctant to reconnect after they disconnect it.

James.

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Cherie August 10, 2006 at 11:24 pm

Well it’s almost 1 AM and here I am checking my email. I do have to say, it’s the only one I decided to read! But I had already gone to bed when I remembered and important email I had to send to my sponsor before Friday progresses. I got that accomplished, all without checking my inbox. But it was just too tempting so I caved. But after reading this here, this will be my last email (sent, received, read) tonight. And I WILL make a concious effort to stop this madness. I promise!!

Cherie
(a sleep-deprived Shaklee Associate)

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Matt August 11, 2006 at 12:50 am

Sure, that’s fine if you’re a coder, and you know what your first job of the day is before you check your email. But some of us don’t work that way.

If, for example, I hadn’t checked my email when I first got to the office tonight, I wouldn’t have found out about a server upgrade that we’d promised the customer would be done by a certain time…that time being at least an hour after I’d have finished what I normally do first when I get in. The customer’s server wouldn’t have gotten upgraded tonight, we’d have had to schedule more downtime tomorrow, customer support would have to deal with an angry customer, and I’d have to deal with three other departments (plus my own boss) being seriously pissed at me, especially if we lost a major customer (which we could have) because of the screw-up. This is not a remotely atypical situation for me to be in, nor for any of my other friends with jobs anything like mine.

The way I deal with it is simple. I have a personal email, and a work email. Nobody I don’t work with has the work email, and nobody I do work with has the personal one. Thus when I check email at work, there’s nothing in it that isn’t important to work. And when I check personal email, I can feel free to be very liberal with the “D” key. Unless I have to write a long answer to something (which is rare), I seldom spend more than 5 minutes at a time checking email. But if I skip it or delay it, it can cause serious problems.

Oh, and people in my personal life who persist in forwarding emails to me that aren’t personal communications learn pretty quickly that such things will be ignored.

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Rob August 17, 2006 at 4:28 am

I find it is the same with my RSS reader. Turn it off in the morning and evening.

Oops, I’m using it now and it’s 10pm.

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Oskar Lissheim-Boethius August 17, 2006 at 6:11 am

So darn true. Checking the email or IM or IRC just before you go to sleep is an oxymoron.

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Matt August 17, 2006 at 6:32 am

This is great advice. Recently, my power adapter for my powerbook bought the farm. My wife, who has an iBook, is travelling for a few days and had to have her laptop with her, and hence the power cable. As we have no desktop at home, I’m left without my laptop (battery died).

That means no night or morning email…which has been great! I’ve been getting to bed earlier and getting out of the house quicker in the morning.

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Brady J. Frey August 17, 2006 at 10:12 am

Great advice – I have the exact same problems, and was under the exact same mindset. I’ll give this a go:)

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Lorin Rivers August 17, 2006 at 2:54 pm

Another thing I have learned is to not have my mail download frequently. I have mine set to check only every hour. If something is truly urgent, I have a phone…

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Scott Carpenter November 26, 2006 at 7:09 am

I have been guilty of checking my mail late at night – and yes a few hours pass before going to bed .. so before I know it, it’s past midnight again. Not good on the sleep patterns – and not good on the stress levels if an urgent email comes through.

With urgent emails my adrenaline shoots up and I couldn’t get to sleep even if I wanted to. Not good. Of course here I am checking mail at 11pm on a Sunday night .. it’s a hard habit to break I tell you!

The flip side is when an urgent email comes through that can quickly, easily and more important promptly be dealt with – something that will save grief if it is done straight away.

Scott

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Seleno April 24, 2007 at 12:11 pm

yes, checking mail steal my time, Ohh, guys i’ internet dependent,addicted :(
how can i change my habit??

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Chris May 3, 2007 at 11:51 am

Haha, That is the first thing I do is check my email “first and last”

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Matt Ellsworth December 11, 2007 at 7:55 am

great idea. I think I will try this. I have switched to only checking my personal email once in the morning some time. But my work email still gets checked several times a day.

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22samurai November 7, 2008 at 9:24 am

The link to the Japanese game show no longer works – do you have another link or could you describe what was going on?

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Miguel Wickert February 28, 2009 at 11:01 pm

I like it! I aim to get at least 2-3 tasks done before sorting through emails. Thanks for sharing. Starting with one task is a good place to start, especially if your hooked to emails. :)

-Mig

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