I’m a rule follower by nature, so when I struggle to follow a common rule, I know there’s a real reason. I’m not just being contrary or going rogue. The rules just don’t always work for me.
When it comes to checking email, people have many rules for how to maximize your productivity. Two of these rules don’t work for me and my business. Here’s why I ignore them, plus the three email rules that I do follow to maximize my productivity.
Two email myths to ignore:
Only check your email twice a day.
Lots of productivity experts recommend that you set aside two times a day to check your email. The idea is that you’ll be more efficient if you chunk your time and deal with many emails at once. Plus, you’ll limit distractions if you’re not constantly checking your email.
I know there are people who are capable of doing this, but I am not one of them. I use my limited reserves of self-control to eat healthy and exercise, not to limit my email inbox checks. I also find it inconvenient to only check email twice a day. As a freelance writer and business owner, I need to be available to my clients. I already live in a different timezone than all of my clients, I don’t want to inconvenience them further by only checking email twice a day.
I check my email six or seven times a day, usually when I’m transitioning between two different work activities.
Don’t check email first thing in the morning.
Productivity experts also recommend that you don’t check your email first thing in the morning. They argue that checking email first thing can give you a false sense of accomplishment and skew your priorities for the day.
This is another piece of advice I ignore. Again, as a business owner and freelance writer, I want my clients to influence my priorities. If someone emails me about a project, I want to respond right away or shuffle my daily priorities around so I can accommodate them. Also, due to the time zone differences, most of the people I work with are six hours behind me. This means that they are still working when I’m eating dinner and getting ready for bed. I get most of my emails in the late evening, so I respond as soon as I can, which is the next morning.
If you want to check your email at any time without sacrificing productivity, then you still need to manage your inbox.
Three email rules to follow:
If you want the freedom of checking your email at any time, then you need make sure you’re not getting hundreds of emails a day. If you have very few emails to deal with, then it doesn’t matter what time or how often you open your inbox. You won’t waste time because there won’t be anything to do in your inbox.
The best way to limit the number of emails you get is to unsubscribe from as many things as possible.
Turn off email notifications from ALL of your social media platforms. When you sign on to social media, you’ll be able to see these notifications, so you don’t need an email too.
Unsubscribe from daily deal and coupon aggregator newsletters. If you really want to buy something you can always visit the website directly.
Unsubscribe from brand sales emails. Yes, I know it’s tempting to sign up for the email newsletter for your favorite brand so that you can get coupons. That’s fine, sign up, get the coupon, use it, then unsubscribe. You should not allow advertisers to clog your inbox and lure you to spend money on things you probably don’t need.
Unsubscribe from business and blog newsletters that aren’t valuable to you. I have an email newsletter for my blog, so we’ve reached the awkward moment when I tell you to unsubscribe to everyone else’s newsletter, but not mine. But honestly, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, if the newsletter is not regularly bringing value to your life, just unsubscribe. Most bloggers and businesses won’t mind. We want to help you, and if we’re not doing that, then it’s okay to say goodbye.
Delete, archive, or file old emails.
Merlin Mann, a productivity expert who created the idea of Inbox Zero said that even if you’ve dealt with an email, leaving it in your inbox “is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf.” If you’re finished with an email, get it out of your inbox. Delete unnecessary emails, and archive or file emails that you might need to refer back to.
Archiving or deleting old emails is essential because it keeps your inbox clutter-free, allowing you to focus exclusively on new, incoming communication. Archiving also means that you can still search for an old email without having to see that email every time you open your inbox.
Turn off alerts.
Being able to check email whenever you want does not mean that you should be checking it constantly. Turn off the dinging, beeping or flashing email alerts on all of your devices. If you absolutely need to know when a specific email reaches your inbox, ask the person sending it to text or call you. If it’s not urgent enough to warrant a text or phone call, then it’s not urgent.
A case study from Loughborough University found that it takes an average of 1 minute and 4 seconds for us to recover after we’re interrupted by an email. If you’re alerted every single time you get a new email, you’re potentially wasting hours a day recovering from the interruptions. The goal is to check your email on your own terms, not to respond like Pavlov’s dog to the dinging alert that signals a treat in your inbox.
Not all rules apply to all situations. The goal is to find a system that works for you. If you check your email twice a day and that helps you maximize your productivity, then by all means, keep doing that. But, if like me, you know you’re going to check email all day long, try these strategies of unsubscribing, archiving, and turning off alerts. Only you can take control of your inbox.