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Full Time, All the Time

with Britt Reints

Forget the 9 to 5; the demands of a working mom aren’t limited by a time clock. Full Time, All the Time is a blog about balancing the many roles of a modern woman - and maintaining your wellbeing while doing it. I am a writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and sometimes volunteer living in Pittsburgh. Oh, and I think you look pretty today.

You can also find Britt on Twitter and at

The Case Against Checking Email

Categories: office life


not checking emailWhat’s the first thing you do when you get to the office?

For many of us - I daresay even most of us - the answer is “check email”.  Unless, of course, you have a smartphone and you don’t need to check your email right away when you get to the office because you’ve already checked it three times before even showing up to work.

I have checked my email on my iPhone before shutting off my alarm.

I regularly check it before having coffee, eating breakfast, hugging my kids, or kissing my husband.  If our actions are indicative of our priorities, it’s clear to me that this is not good. Sentimental logic aside, checking email may be the most unproductive way to start your day.

A couple weeks ago I ragged on some of the advice given in The 4-Hour Work Week, but not all of the advice Tim Ferriss has to offer is bad.  In fact, a sizable chunk of it is excellent - especially if you’re looking to be more productive and conscientious about how you spend your time.  It was Mr. Ferriss, in fact, who pointed out the inherent dangers of checking email first thing in the morning.

The problem with checking email first thing in the morning is that it inevitably allows other people to set the day’s schedule.  Your email is basically a digital honey-do list, with anyone who has your email address being granted the honor of calling you honey.  Nearly every email you receive is asking you for something - time, money, assistance, attention.  Regardless of what your goals are for the day, checking your email first thing in the morning gives other people’s goals an opportunity to come first.

Can’t you just check your emails to see what’s there and respond or “handle” them later?

Sure.  Of course, if you’re going to be doing that anyway, why waste time checking them? Why clutter your mind with a running list of things to be taken care of later?  Why risk losing your focus because someone else sent you an 8 paragraph email outlining a major project?  Why jeopardize your mood because your sister needed to tell you about how stupid her boyfriend is acting - again?

I don’t mean to imply that all email is bad.  It’s not, obviously.  But incoming email has the ability to affect your mindset, mood, and schedule - and you have no control over it.  You give up control of your day - and how you’ll spend it - when you begin it by opening Pandora’s Box.

But what if there is an emergency?

If someone is emailing you about an emergency, they are an idiot.  Email is not meant to be instantaneous communication and it’s your job to teach people that you are not constantly available via your email address.  In the case of a true emergency, chances are people will be able to reach you when needed.  Not being able to reach you immediately may also help the people you communicate with redefine the term “emergency”.

Give it a try.

I work on the Internet.  Not checking my email nine times between 6am and 10am requires more concentration than holding still long enough to get an epidural.  It’s rough.  At first. I had to change the home page on my computer and shut off push notifications for emails on my iPhone.  I started charging my phone in the kitchen overnight instead of on my nightstand.  As a result, I got more done every morning and I spent less of my time putting out other people’s fires.  It was great!

I’ve been off the wagon for about a week now.  I was waiting for a response to an important query (which I, ironically, still haven’t received) and email sucked me back in.  The difference in my daily focus and productivity is noticeable, so back to email rehab I go.

Do you check your email first thing in the morning?  Do you think you could give that habit up?

Photo by Fletcher Prince

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12 comments so far...

  • This is my number one resolution, not just annually, but probably weekly. Ignore the “bong” on my iPhone, step away from the light (of the computer) and try to plug into my kid, not my gadgets.

    I definitely have given up checking emails before bed as one snotty note could keep me up for hours.

    Well, as they say–One Day at a Time.

    Gray Matter Matters  |  September 15th, 2010 at 6:01 am

  • I’m OCD about email…it’s the last thing I do– via my iphone– every night, and it’s the first thing I do every morning before getting out of bed. Then I do it a bunch more while driving into work. I hate it.

    I’m in the process of finally hiring someone to be at my office all day, full-time, and I’m going to take Tim’s advice about letting him/her have access to my email to sort out the crap and let me deal with what matters. Because otherwise? I’m going to end up cutting somebody.

    muskrat  |  September 15th, 2010 at 6:09 am

  • Interesting theory. I don’t get much e-mail that isn’t personal, but it wouldn’t kill me to wait an hour or two before checking it.

    Finn  |  September 15th, 2010 at 7:02 am

  • I am twitching at the idea.

    And yet i am fascinated.

    hello haha narf  |  September 15th, 2010 at 7:35 am

  • I use the Categories feature of outlook - every time I get a new project to work, I assign that project a color category. I keep my inbox sorted by category so I can easily see when one project has things piling up. I usually decide based on priorities or daily meetings what “category” I am going to work first, so I check my e-mail, categorize all the new e-mails, and then collapse all groups except the one I am working. This is the only way I can stay organized and on top of everything I have going on at once.

    Erin  |  September 15th, 2010 at 9:04 am

  • Muskrat - Gmail’s Priority Inbox is a good start - but I don’t imagine you’re using that for work.

    Miss Britt  |  September 15th, 2010 at 9:14 am

  • This is really awesome advice. It’s advice that IT professionals are given on a regular basis at seminars because otherwise we NEVER get ANYTHING done. (Everyone’s problem is an emergency, dontcha know.)

    Poppy  |  September 15th, 2010 at 9:34 am

  • 50% of my email is actually news (information is my speciality) so I generally scroll through it before I get to work to pick out the stuff that is more immediately actionable.
    But, I’ve been able for the last week not to do this until I get on the train. That way the early AM gives my daughter her attention and I notice what’s going on in my house like cats looking forlornly at a bowl (honey did you give the cats WATER with the food?), outfits that are great for school but “you need to bring some shorts or leggings to run in later”), red folder on table “aren’t we forgetting something?”.

    Mich  |  September 15th, 2010 at 10:42 am

  • Sigh. Yup, ya got me.

    Rehab? I’d need drugs.

    Darla  |  September 18th, 2010 at 4:45 pm

  • I am going to try this idea. I get into the office around 30-45 minutes after most people and the first thing I do is check email. Because of this, my box is usually filling up and many times I end up getting side-tracked and the day’s to-do list goes out the window. I am ready for a more productive morning!

    ParalegalMom  |  September 19th, 2010 at 6:32 pm

  • I’ve found aging is helping the issue of checking my email in bed {before I do anything else}.

    It appears everything is blurry ~ no matter how far away I hold it from my face ~ before my first cup of coffee.

    Good luck with your second ride on the “wagon” {grin}

    April  |  September 20th, 2010 at 6:40 am

  • Yes, I check my e-mail first thing in the morning, to see what’s there first. But if I know I have something else more urgent to do that doesn’t involve e-mails, I do it first.

    No, I don’t think I can give it up. I feel like I’m missing something if I don’t check it.

    I’ve always wondered how checking e-mail became so important that it’s the first thing most people in corporate America do and sometimes the last.

    Linda  |  September 29th, 2010 at 4:53 pm