What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office?
For many of us - I daresay even most of us - the answer is “check email”. Unless, of course, you have a smartphone and you don’t need to check your email right away when you get to the office because you’ve already checked it three times before even showing up to work.
I have checked my email on my iPhone before shutting off my alarm.
I regularly check it before having coffee, eating breakfast, hugging my kids, or kissing my husband. If our actions are indicative of our priorities, it’s clear to me that this is not good. Sentimental logic aside, checking email may be the most unproductive way to start your day.
A couple weeks ago I ragged on some of the advice given in The 4-Hour Work Week, but not all of the advice Tim Ferriss has to offer is bad. In fact, a sizable chunk of it is excellent - especially if you’re looking to be more productive and conscientious about how you spend your time. It was Mr. Ferriss, in fact, who pointed out the inherent dangers of checking email first thing in the morning.
The problem with checking email first thing in the morning is that it inevitably allows other people to set the day’s schedule. Your email is basically a digital honey-do list, with anyone who has your email address being granted the honor of calling you honey. Nearly every email you receive is asking you for something - time, money, assistance, attention. Regardless of what your goals are for the day, checking your email first thing in the morning gives other people’s goals an opportunity to come first.
Can’t you just check your emails to see what’s there and respond or “handle” them later?
Sure. Of course, if you’re going to be doing that anyway, why waste time checking them? Why clutter your mind with a running list of things to be taken care of later? Why risk losing your focus because someone else sent you an 8 paragraph email outlining a major project? Why jeopardize your mood because your sister needed to tell you about how stupid her boyfriend is acting - again?
I don’t mean to imply that all email is bad. It’s not, obviously. But incoming email has the ability to affect your mindset, mood, and schedule - and you have no control over it. You give up control of your day - and how you’ll spend it - when you begin it by opening Pandora’s Box.
But what if there is an emergency?
If someone is emailing you about an emergency, they are an idiot. Email is not meant to be instantaneous communication and it’s your job to teach people that you are not constantly available via your email address. In the case of a true emergency, chances are people will be able to reach you when needed. Not being able to reach you immediately may also help the people you communicate with redefine the term “emergency”.
Give it a try.
I work on the Internet. Not checking my email nine times between 6am and 10am requires more concentration than holding still long enough to get an epidural. It’s rough. At first. I had to change the home page on my computer and shut off push notifications for emails on my iPhone. I started charging my phone in the kitchen overnight instead of on my nightstand. As a result, I got more done every morning and I spent less of my time putting out other people’s fires. It was great!
I’ve been off the wagon for about a week now. I was waiting for a response to an important query (which I, ironically, still haven’t received) and email sucked me back in. The difference in my daily focus and productivity is noticeable, so back to email rehab I go.
Do you check your email first thing in the morning? Do you think you could give that habit up?
Photo by Fletcher Prince