2 Hours and 15 Minutes of Email

Last Monday I decided to check email only once/day at 1pm for one week.

What I learned from this experiment:

1. I only get about 30 emails/day. And half of that is garbage!  So really, maybe 15 emails to respond to every day.  I always start by eliminating the trash (facebook notifications, Myspace friend requests, etc).  Then I reply to each email, flagging anything that requires a long response for later (I usually get to these on Sundays).  I ended up spending 15-30 minutes doing email each day.  I spent 2 hours and 15 minutes on email all week.

(email is the little red slice of the pie)

2. Email in the morning is the biggest time waster EVER! Waiting until 1pm every day to open my email showed me how much time I really have in the morning to do more important things.  Before this little experiment, I use to wake up sometime between 8 and 10 am, exercise, eat breakfast, and then open my email.  I wouldn’t close my email program, though…at all.  So the entire time spent at home before going out for a session or a gig would be time that I would check email off and on.   That was the big problem.  Once it was opened, I allowed myself to be interrupted by anyone at anytime.  You know how this goes, right?  The result was usually that I wasted the first 2-3 hours of my day being half-engaged with whatever I’m working on. Because I allowed myself to be interrupted, my focus was pretty short.  But this past week I felt like I had an extra 4 hours a day.

3. Batching is good for my brain. Think about this…

It takes me an average of 15 -30 minutes to process 30 emails when I do it all at once.  So, roughly one minute deciding about and, if necessary, responding to each email.

If, on the other hand, I allow email to interrupt me all day long, those same 30 emails take at least twice as long to process. That’s because it takes a few minutes to switch between tasks.

Now what?

This week I’m doing email at noon.  I’m just going week to week, so I might try 2x/day later on.  We’ll see.  At this point, I’m really happy with allowing email to only take up a couple hours of my week.  The alternative is too painful.

Most importantly, I have my mornings back!

(photo by Ali Eisner)

6 Responses to 2 Hours and 15 Minutes of Email

  1. Really interesting post, Christine. I’m easily and frequently intrigued by how people manage their email, but I also constantly work on giving it its due attention (but no more than that) in my own days, so the post caught my notice on both levels.

    The part that grabbed me the most was “I wasted the first 2-3 hours of my day being half-engaged with whatever I’m working on.” Yep. I relate to that. I work out of my email inbox a great deal, and while I try to only process email once a day, because the inbox is open & I’m working out of it, the interruptions coming in distract me, and I know that feeling of partial-engagement.

    Reading about your success with this experiment inspires me to tweak my own process a bit more–because I miss that uninterrupted, total-focus feeling.

    Thanks for this post. It’s got my brain a-percolatin’! 🙂

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  4. Christine I just wanted to say that this post really spoke to me today – I have such issues with managing ema, the flood is just too much. I am going to trial once or twice a day for the coming weeks and see if it works. I think my biggest problem is that I often read through emails “just to see what has come in” but not at a time when I can deal with them. Then they woosh past in the flood and are gone without having been actioned…

    I’d also love to know if this is still how you are working now?! I know is is an oldish post.

    My last question is ‘what is that neat-looking time tracking gizmo you were using to see how much you did each day?!” I’ve googled “pulse” but no joy, lots of heartrate monitors! I have to start tracking time for the tax man…

  5. Hi Nicola,

    My process has changed over the years, but I still adhere to the most important habits: no email in the morning (for at least the first hour), and processing in batches.

    That tracking thing I used is called Freckle https://letsfreckle.com
    It worked well for me at the time! I tend to use tracking systems for short periods, because it does require a lot of energy to maintain. If I had a job where I was paid by the hour, I would start using Freckle again. But I was just using it as a personal log, to see where my time was going.

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