Here’s What Happens When You Check Your Email Less Often



Apr. 29 2014, Published 8:01 p.m. ET

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My productivity spiked when I decided to check my email less.

At the beginning of the work day, one of the first must-do tasks for most is to open email. There’s the sale notification from Gilt that you must look through. An email from your cousin about a party on Friday. That newsletter with the best headline for an article on being productive (ironic) you must now read. And before you know it, you’ve spiraled down a hole filled with a million internet tabs open, while in your mind you’re trying to calculate if you have the money to buy those boots right now. In the midst of all this, you’ve almost forgotten the real intent of checking your email.

It’ll take you about 15 minutes to re-focus and you’ve wasted about 30 minutes of your time. And if it hasn’t completely thrown you off track, it has, at the very least, elongated the time it’s taken you to get that one pesky task done.

I know this is my situation, so I wanted to do an experiment. Could I be more productive if I only checked my personal email three times a day? If I took away the constant notifications, the flashy blue g-chat convos and focused on the day ahead, could I be more productive? A study done by email security and archiving firm Mimecast found that only one in three emails has immediate value. That means two in three emails that pop up while you’re completing a task don’t need your attention at that moment and aren’t worthy of a distraction. In other words, your personal email does not need to be open at all hours of the work day.

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So I embarked on a five-day journey to only check my email three times a day for one work week (Monday through Friday.)  Before I said “go!”, I prepped myself. How could I make this the most effective and productive time for me? What should I be keeping in mind? This is what I learned, and this is what happened.

1. Shut it down.

Keeping the email window open in the background won’t help you. Rather, schedule the times you will open and check your email. By not having it as an option to distract you, you can focus what you’re doing in the moment.

This was hard at first. I checked my email when I arrived at work, and set an alarm for two other times throughout the work day, afternoon and before I left. I found myself anxious waiting to look at my email.

Community Manager Mike Delgado also suggests turning off email notifications and any instant messaging, which I did on my desktop and phone. I went totally rogue.

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2. Checking your email three times a day will make you a better communicator.

This system still allowed me to respond to people within 24 hours. I saved articles, videos and newsletters for later.

It also allowed me to think before I pressed the send button. Piece of newly found advice: If you can’t think of what you want to say right away and it is not time sensitive, waiting until the afternoon or evening to respond back will allow you to give someone your best response.

3. Prioritization takes on a whole new meaning!

By Friday, what I learned was simple: it’s not necessary to have your personal email open all day. Often, we put a sense of urgency on tasks that are not urgent, and they end up distracting us. By the end of the week, daily tasks that typically took me 30 minutes to complete, took 15. Come to find out, I could save most of my emails to read through for the end day.

If more of your problems do come from your work email, 99u has great tips on how to prioritize; giving emails that need it the time they deserve as a singular tasks, and learning emails which are not time sensitive.

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