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.
Updated July 30, 2018.