Did you know that according to Statista, 49% of workers in the US check their work emails at home every few hours? On the flipside, 52% of US workers check personal emails at work every few hours?
On top of that, our email consumption is projected to increase further.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as the NIMH defines it, is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.
They add that a person with OCD generally can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive, spending at least one hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors.
According to the Urban Dictionary, Obsessive-Compulsive Email Checking Disorder (OCECD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a subject’s obsessive thoughts and subsequent compulsions to check his/her email.
Whether those definitions hold true for the average knowledge worker, which can still be the subject of debate, one thing is for sure: we check email 24/7. Yet we fail to confess that we’re slaves to our inbox.
What if we were the masters of it? Should we really never check email in the morning?
Checking the email in the morning is one of the seven mistakes people make when dealing with email. Let’s see what you could do instead.
What you can do in the morning
It has been widely recognized that emailing in the morning isn’t productive. Below, I present three seminal works to support that argument.
Your One Thing
In their book, The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan argue that when allocating the right time to your “one thing” on a consistent basis, you’ll get extraordinary results. The authors propose that you time block that one thing as early in the day as possible to get it done by all means.
It can be anything that is central to your success and well-being. It can be an important project at work but not email.
Engage in Deep Work
Cal Newport, the author of the Deep Work, argues that emailing is a typical shallow activity that should be reduced in favor of deep work. Cal defines deep work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
Start With Your Ugliest Tasks
The third and somewhat overlapping example of how you can spend your morning in a more meaningful way is proposed by Brian Tracy. He argues that you begin your day with your ugliest tasks first―these are your frogs.
Most people have negative emotions with frogs. By accomplishing your frogs first thing in the morning, you get a sense of accomplishment.
Part of the story is that your energy peaks in the morning and then gets depleted over the day. With that, it’s best to get serious stuff done early in the morning. Later in the day, you’re less likely to tackle uncomfortable tasks because your energy is depleted or distractions come along.
Experts say that you set up three frogs or important tasks in advance to ensure that you don’t get hijacked in the morning and don’t get into decision fatigue. I learned this trick from Michael Sliwinski, CEO of Nozbe.
In the evening, Michael would identify his frogs for the next day and mark them with a nice green frog icon in his task manager, Nozbe. The next morning, he just filters his task list against his frogs and he is ready to start the day. I follow Michael’s approach and identify my frogs in advance.
Meditation, exercise or journaling are also great ways to boost your mornings.
Still, there’re situations when dealing with email in the morning isn’t a bad idea.
Why emailing in the morning can be still productive?
There’re times when emailing in the morning can be still productive. Fellow blogger, Paul Minors, would reply to his emails in the morning. “It’s just personal preference,” he adds, “but I much prefer to start by clearing my inbox and responding to clients. If I don’t, there’s this weight hanging over my head.”
Now, if you serve customers, you might check email in the morning and let them know that you’ll get back to them later in the day. If a reply would consume less than two minutes from your agenda, do it immediately.
You can also make use of your commuting time to deal with email and other correspondence. Anyway, you should limit the time you spend on checking and replying emails.
Your 30-day trial
Ask yourself two questions:
1. What happens if you don’t reply to your emails in the morning for some days?
2. What would you miss out when you deal with email in your most productive morning hours?
Begin with baby steps. Try escaping your inbox over the first hour of your nine to five.
You have many other options to consider (see above). Commit to a trial period and see whether it works for you. I guarantee that by the end of your trial, you’ll feel way more productive than ever before. More importantly, you will be, in fact, more productive!
If I had given a single piece of productivity advice to my younger self, I would have suggested avoiding email in the morning by all means. This single habit completely changed the way how I work and perceive the world.
If you could negotiate it with your boss, you might consider beginning your nine-to-five earlier. The earlier you begin your day, the less distraction you would experience.
I work seven-to-four in a nine-to-six environment. By the time most colleagues would arrive, I already have accomplished my most important tasks (frogs). I would open my email right when my colleagues hit the office.
I have to admit that I used to be a 7-am-check-and-reply-my-emails guy. Later, when I dove into productivity, it dawned on me that emailing in the morning isn’t the cleverest use of my time. And nothing bad happened when I started to ignore emails in the morning.
It’s not about being perfect. There’re days when I still check my inbox before 9 a.m., but it’s an exception rather than a habit now. The key is that you experiment, experiment, and experiment.