Stop Checking Your Email All the Time

I believe there are many professionals who check their email all the time. If you are one of them, think about breaking that habit. If you read your email every hour for 15 minutes that’s quite a long time – maybe you could try to read your email only once in the beginning of the day (for 10 minutes) and once in the end of the day (for 10 minutes). Resist the urge to have a “quick check”.

Try what suits for you, but try cutting down email usage. Try this experiment for 30 days and see what happens. Use it the way it suits you: if you spend 1 hour daily, try to use only 30 minutes. Reduce by 10%. Even a small step is a good if you are really addicted to checking your email.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. @the Jack: If you have a system for knowing when something is critical via email then that’s fine. But there’s a problem in that: (a) how can the other person know that you will check your email *immediately*. If the message is critical – then shouldn’t he call, use SMS, write MSN message to contact you? and (b) this system can be easily go into “everything is critical” – so that the other person simply puts High priority email when he shouldn’t – he just wants your attention.

    We at Indiepath handle this the following way:
    – Support emails were (are) critical: if a customer emails us then we will read those as soon as possible. We implemented an auto-responder system to handle 90% of the support requests (which mainly were: “My registration key is not working”) – but nevertheless we wanted to make sure we give an impression that we respond to people. We wanted them to know that players are priority number one – no matter what. Any other emails weren’t considered critical…
    – …Unless the other person specifically mentioned “URGENT” (or something similar), asked to deal the email in MSN or if the other person sent an SMS containing “important email in your mailbox, please read”. This worked very well for us. We never made written rules about these – but it worked, and continues to work with us (we still have common areas of business where we work together)

    Bottom line: I think checking email or letting email to interrupt your work will cause productivity to lower. Same goes with co-workers which might interrupt you. It’s a matter of choice: what is important to you?

  2. @Game Producer

    Agreed, but I look at it like this: anyone sending me urgent/critical Email should be using proper protocols (setting the priority in the Email client or using specific keywords in the subject or responding to my messages) and that anything else that hits my Inbox must be extraneous.

  3. @the Jack: I don’t think you can really create an email for “something that requires your immediate attention which would always be priority number 1 no matter what you are doing”… not 100% anyway. I guess you could create some kind of alert for “critical support emails” but even then your email system cannot understand the context and decide whether it’s important to handle right now, or can you handle it later. Interruptions, interruptions…

    but I agree that an “alert” could be okay way to implement with the “checking email now and then” process easily: you could easily see from an alert whether you need to check your email today at all….

  4. Are you using OSX’s Mail client?

    Program the smart mailboxes and set the rules to alert you when you get something that requires your attention, and direct all non-essential mail to a box you can check from your synchronized iBook at home or on the train.

  5. @Knyght: I must say that I’m with Matt here… actually, I think automated notifications will interrupt even more!

    @Craig Fry: The problem with telephone calls: they cost. For intra-office communication it could be better (at least in some cases) to use phones, msn, face-to-face or any other device than email but unfortunately many indies these options aren’t always available. Like for example when I worked at Indiepath Ltd. we worked in 3 different continents… mostly in English and Finland but there were contributors from US and Uruguay as well.

    I don’t know what the right solution is, but for me: productivity increases when I can spent time on something uniterrupted (like Matt commented) – and I can also cut down the useless email checking if I don’t constantly check out my email. Once or twice per day for a defined period time is fine.

  6. The hazard of the “quick check” is that it breaks your flow. Productivity has very little to do with total time spent on something. Rather, it has to do with productive time spent on something, which for many things (certainly if you’re programming) means uninterrupted time.

    The Outlook beeps or systray icons are huge offenders. Shut them off. Check e-mail during logical breaks (i.e. when you switch from one activity to another).

  7. Here is the problem.

    People are too reliant on email. If only there was a way to instantly communicate with someone to get the information with inflection and tone. A way to quickly express yourself and get feed back. If only…

    Oh wait, it’s called a PHONE.

    The best way you can decrease downtime and increase productivity is to abolish the use of email for intra-office communication. MAKE people use the phone and talk to people face to face.

    You’d be surprised how quickly things can get done without email purgatory.

  8. I think a better way to go is to have something to check your email for you. Be it google’s sidebar, your email client’s builtin notifier, or even MSN. Doing this, you never have to check your email unless you actually get something, and then you can choose to do it now (see your own one minute task post), or at the end of the day, while eating, whatever you feel works.

    Just my useless opinion.

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