How to never check email in the morning (while still checking email in the morning)

FullSizeRender-2If you are a fan of all things time management, then you are probably familiar with Julie Morgenstern. Her best known book, Never Check E-mail in the Morning, remains a classic primer on how to make work work better. Partly because of its influence, the question of whether you check email in the morning gets bandied about a lot in anything on morning routines (e.g. the My Morning Routine newsletter asks subjects this question).

Morgenstern’s message is quite sensible. “Email is undoubtedly the world’s most convenient procrastination device,” she writes. Checking email (not composing email, mind you) is often reactive. When you check it first thing, you get sucked into responding to other people’s queries. You lose what is often the most productive part of the day to other people’s priorities. “The most dramatic, effective way to boost your productivity is to completely avoid email for the first hour of the day,” she says. “Don’t let technology take away your time to think and apply your higher-level self to tasks.” Save email for lower energy times.

This remains good advice. However, Never Check E-mail in the Morning came out in 2004-2005. This was before the iPhone. Some people had Blackberries, but this was a few years before the Blackberry peak too. For many people, checking email in the morning meant walking into your workplace, booting up your computer, and then checking email first.

These days, checking email in the morning might happen before the workday has officially started. You check while waiting for the bus, or while in line for coffee.

There are more reasons to do so now too. Because everyone does have smart phones, the assumption is that you will see a message, even if it is sent relatively close to the event it is about. In other words, people will send an email at night canceling the 10:00 A.M. meeting. If you never check email in the morning, you might not be aware of that.

Fortunately, there is a way to get the benefits of never checking email in the morning while still checking email in the morning. It is to still follow the spirit of Morgenstern’s advice. That is, once you sit down at your desk, you devote that first hour to whatever you have deemed to be your top priority for the day. You focus for the full hour before breaking away to deal with the firestorm. However, you can take a quick glance at your inbox when you are somewhere other than your desk to make sure there is nothing like a meeting cancellation. That could be on the train, or even after you have parked your car in the office garage. Sit there in the driver’s seat, pull out the phone, look at your inbox, get the lay of the land. Then turn the phone off, and walk into your email-free zone, ready to conquer the world.

In other news: The Ellevate Network just launched a podcast, and my interview with Sallie Krawcheck was one of the first episodes! You can listen to our conversation here. If you enjoy it, please share and rate the podcast!

10 thoughts on “How to never check email in the morning (while still checking email in the morning)

  1. As with all things, it depends on the person! Gretchen Rubin has said many times that she checks email first thing, and she’s certainly prolific enough with her books and very busy blog. I think for some who work from home, checking email is like cleaning the kitchen before work – their mind can’t relax if the dishes are niggling at them. Other people can ignore the dishes and dig in. We’re all different!

    1. @Carrie- yes, Gretchen defies the whole never-check-email-in-the-morning thing! Though her version is like having a physical separation. From what I understand, she does it from like 6-7, then deals with family and getting kids to school, then starts the real work of the day.

      I do check email in my first chunk of the day too — 8-8:30 is kind of a freebie/throwaway time in my mind. Nanny is here at 8, but I take the boys out at 8:30. So there’s not enough time to do anything meaty. It becomes a good time to check the blog comments, answer quick emails, deal with scheduling stuff and so forth.

  2. This is exactly what I’ve been doing for a long time, I read “Never check email in the morning” in 2008 and implemented this shortly thereafter. I walk to work and check work email while I wait at the light and in the elevator. I’m usually first in the office and unless there is a truly urgent request in the email, I setup for the day and do my planning and most important tasks. But I check my personal and school email before work, so I know my student’s late night emails and any personal tasks are taken care of and I don’t have to worry about it at work. I check three separate accounts daily (except on weekends) in this manner and still manage to get a lot of work done. It is about treating email as a single task with a particular time slot, rather than something to do constantly during the day.

    1. I do the same thing—walk to work and check at the light or elevator to make sure there isn’t something that would impact my morning/day.
      Checking email in the morning isn’t a problem for me. What I had to absolutely stop doing is checking email at NIGHT before I went to bed! And also to limit the constant checking everytime I get a notice in outlook (or need a mental break) and instead treat email like a task that gets batched and scheduled at specific times of day.

  3. “Because everyone does have smart phones”
    This made me smile because I still do not have a smartphone. But I really may be the last person on earth to say that.

  4. I check my email (on my phone) immediately upon waking up. Like, still in my bed! I also check my e-calendar to remind me what’s going on that day (and whether I need to wear a suit or not).

    For me, it’s an easy, low energy way to start the day and I know if there are any immediate fires that need to be put out when I get to work. It doesn’t take very long because I’m simply scrolling through.

    If something does come up that needs deliberation, I can use my pre-work morning time while showering, getting dressed, making lunch, commuting to think. This way I hit the ground running when I get to my desk.

  5. I realized I was stressing out on Sunday night when I couldn’t remember what time my first meeting was on Monday. Now I have my work e-mail and calendar on my phone and being able to just quickly check my calendar has made a huge difference in my stress level. Especially if I wake up at 7:30 and still have an hour commute ahead of me. And I know I don’t have the volume of e-mails that most people get. But my husband gets concerned if he e-mails me in the morning and I don’t reply within a couple of hours.

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