The Art of NOT Checking Your Email

Yesterday I tried a little experiment: I checked my email inbox precisely ONCE, just once in the entire day! Of course my curiosity nearly got the best of me at times, “Imagine what new and exciting or urgent emails could be waiting for me right now!” But I refused to crack, and checked and responded to all my emails once late in the day.

Now you might not be like me, maybe you’re content hopping online once a month, good for you. But if you are like me, and find yourself jumping at the arrival of every new email (or keeping a constant watch on your Facebook or Twitter), then you might appreciate the book I’m reading right now.

I’m currently reading a book that I’ve avoided for years: The 4-Hour Work Week. The reason I avoided it for so long? The cover. I didn’t care to read another “get rich quick and live the good life” book, because I know those schemes usually don’t work, and I, in fact, enjoy working. But I’ve jumped into it and repented of my judgments of the book. It’s turning into one the more influential books I’ve read. Tim Ferriss has great insights on lifestyle design and productivity.

“(Email consumption and production) is the greatest single interruption in the modern world.”

Currently I’m reading about working efficiently and effectively by eliminating interruptions and distractions while working. Tim states that it can take 45 minutes to re-focus on a major task after interruptions, and that 28% of our 9-5 work day is spent with such interruptions. So he introduced me to the idea of “batching”, the idea of letting emails pile up so that you can tackle them all in one batch at a set time in the day instead of letting each new email interrupt your work flow.

So yesterday I tried it. I shut down my email program completely (I had earlier turned of the “you have new mail” notification sound), and waited to check emails till late in the day. I discovered that the world didn’t stop turning, and in fact I only had a couple really important emails to respond to anyway.

If you’re often getting distracted by your emails, you may want to try this experiment as well. Turn off the email notifications, shut down Mail or Outlook, and set a time to check your emails today. You might find yourself being less stressed, more productive, or, as in my case yesterday, being more present for your family.

PS If you haven’t read this article on overcoming multi-tasking yet, check it out!

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3 Comments

  1. How am I supposed to answer those urgent e-mails?

    • Nathan, it’s true that there are urgent emails to be answered, and that these days a lot of our work often includes writing and responding to emails. I just know that often when I start work in the morning, I look to “urgent” emails to determine what I’m going to do with my day, instead of making real traction on my own projects first. And I usually waste a lot of time checking just in case an urgent email landed in my inbox, and end up getting distracted by non-urgent stuff.

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