Do not check your email! Plenty of people with fancy credentials will tell you to avoid your email at all costs in the morning. Time management consultant Julie Morgenstern wrote a whole book about it. She told The Huffington Post that if you give in to the temptation, “you will never recover.” Personal development writer Sid Savara gives seven reasons not to check it. For starters, the requests in your email aren’t on your agenda of “things to do” yet. If you add them to your plate, you will be distracted from the important things already on your to-do list. Do you want to lose the bliss that accompanies ignorance? On the other hand, just as many experts will tell you to check your email at the beginning of the day. Here’s what they have to say.
Why you should check email
Get it out of the way
The biggest reason to check your email in the morning is simply to get it out of the way. Lifehacker reports the personal experience of Harvard Business Review contributor Dorie Clark: “Pushing email correspondence to the end of the day, I found that I consistently avoided answering certain messages because they required hard choices that my brain found taxing. I realized that if I finally wanted to vanquish those messages straggling at the bottom of my inbox, what I needed most wasn’t simply time to respond; it was the willpower and discernment to make good judgments and respond accordingly.” She recommends setting aside twenty-minute periods throughout the day to handle email correspondence.
Train others to respect your time
Has anyone ever called you or sent you a message asking if you got their email that they sent five minutes ago? In today’s world of technology, people want things fast. But isn’t patience a virtue? When you don’t reply instantly, you might irritate others at first. However, when they receive a thoughtful reply, they might learn to appreciate your diligence. If your custom is to reply to emails in the morning, you can respond within twenty-four hours. That’s a reasonable time frame that gives you time to answer properly. Eventually, your frequent contacts will become familiar with your routine. They will see that you are too busy to be at their beck and call, but you will get back to them in due time. For real emergencies, they can call you on the telephone.
Give yourself time to cope
If you read your emails early, you have time to react. If you wait too late for an urgent email, you might miss an opportunity or not have enough time to meet a deadline. A morning review of emails prevents you from holding up others. If someone needs your reply to progress, you can help out your team productivity by doing your part as soon as possible.
You can avoid “email pressure”
According to an article in The Guardian, London researchers from Future Work Centre reported that workers feel pressured from constant streams of demanding emails. Employees who receive emails on their mobile devices via apps are even more stressed. In Germany, the problem became so concerning that the minister of employment began entertaining “anti-stress” legislation to prohibit companies from contacting employees outside of business hours in non-emergency situations. Though checking email at the beginning and end of the day had the strongest correlation with email stress, the report suggested turning off automatic notifications of new messages. If you check your account in the morning, handle the most important messages right away, and then close the app, you might find that you stay on top of your emails without feeling overwhelmed. Interestingly, personality also influenced how pressured people felt. What a psychologist and a science writer found out about the effects of willpower may surprise you.
Willpower is finite
In the book Willpower, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney uphold willpower as one of the greatest human feats. According to Tierney, “You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day, so you should be careful to conserve it and try to save it for the emergencies.” How does this apply to emails? It’s easy to put off answering them if the responses require research or a long reply. Delay too long, and you seem rude. Answering the tricky ones requires willpower and you have the most of it in the morning, before you have depleted it dealing with other challenges. Perhaps you won’t have weighty replies to write every day, but when you do, the morning is a great time to address them. Tierney also says that willpower is comparable to resistance training. The more you exercise willpower, the stronger your self-control will become. Once you train yourself to handle key communications first thing in the morning, you will have the discipline to avoid spending mental energy on the time-wasters.
How to do it right
Writer Laura Chin tells us how to check emails without zapping our mental energy. The process starts before you even power up your laptop. She quotes NeuroLeadership Institute director David Rock: “If you can’t recall what your goals are, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to scan the environment for things relevant to your goals.” First, define your objectives. When you scan your email later, you will be able to zero in on important messages and make a decision how to handle each one.
Next, open your inbox. Remember these two words—discernment and willpower. Channel your top priorities as you scroll through your new emails. Use your judgment to decide which messages are most important. Open them and respond immediately or flag them as high priority. Next, use your willpower to close your browser. Anything less than critical can wait until later in the day.
Do you feel that sorting critical from unimportant drains too much of your time? Try an email organization service, such as Unroll.me, which groups low priority messages together so that you can concentrate on the important stuff. Outlook has recently implemented a similar service. It’s called focused inbox. The system responds and adapts as it observes which contacts you interact with the most. It also filters forwards, newsletters, and bulk emails into a separate tab that you can read in your leisure time. Besides automatically deleting spam, you can set “rules” to keep only the latest copy of overly frequent newsletters.
You will stress yourself out. You will get distracted from your daily objectives. You will waste too much valuable time. These are some reasons people may tell you that you should never check your email before lunchtime. However, many experts have found that clearing away important emails in the first part of the day will free up your brain for other matters. People will learn that you are busy, but you will answer within a reasonable amount of time. And you will build up your willpower as you answer only the key messages. What’s the bottom line? No one can tell you which philosophy is best because you must take into account your personality and circumstances. What time works best for your job? What method makes you feel the least stress? When do you work most productively? No one will knock your choice if you are capable and competent in your job.