Productivity tip: Don’t read your email

People often ask me how I get so much done. Over and over, I have found one of the simplest ways to increase productivity is by not reading my email in the morning. Some days, I don’t get around to reading it at all.

This evening, when I finally opened my email, I had over 1,100 messages. In less than an hour, I have winnowed it down to 480.

As you can imagine, the majority is spam – offers to optimize my site for search, improve my sex life and sell me dishes. For some reason, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and the like are convinced I’m a good market for housewares. Bizarre, because the only thing domestic about me is that I live in a house and the only thing I make for dinner is reservations.

The spam takes a few minutes to sift through.

Then there is the large category of email that is unnecessary. If you are guilty of any of these, do the community a favor and reform.

  • Notifications I don’t need. It’s nice that someone wants to thank me for speaking at an event, that students from Billy Bob Elementary appreciated the donated site license. I appreciate that you thought of me, I do. I don’t, however, appreciate it so much that I’m going to put off starting work for an hour to read all of this. Sorry, not sorry. I also don’t need to be informed that I have changed my password (I know, because I did it) or that The Spoiled One has a game at 3 pm in San Francisco ( do they think I didn’t notice she was gone?)
  • Copies of email that I don’t need to be copied on. If someone else will be attending an event on behalf of our company, held a meeting or has been assigned an action item, nice. I don’t need to be informed and I don’t need a copy of the agenda of meetings I won’t attend unless there is an item along the lines of, “In an attempt to curry favor with the venture capital gods, we will be making a human sacrifice of the CEO in the lobby at noon on Wednesday.” – in which case I might want to avoid the office mid-week.

The biggest reason for not reading my email, though, is that I already have an idea of what my priorities are for the day and I start on the highest priority first. There has yet to be a day when I looked at my to-do list and it read:

Priority #1 : Read email.

The real time suck in my email is the emails from people who want me to do things – complete this form, write this letter, review this contract, give me your opinion on this, let me know when you can schedule this meeting. The key point here is that all of these involve someone else’s priorities.

There is such a temptation  to take 5 or 10 minutes to respond to each of these requests, or to at least consider it, then decide it is not a priority and I’ll do it later.

Occasionally, I do miss something that I needed to know. However, that inconvenience is minor compared to not starting off my day with an hour or two of reacting to what other people request, rather than acting on priorities for my own company.


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One Comment

  1. I am actually using this for increasing work production in our architectural firm. Today will be day 1 of not checking your client email for 2-3 hour blocks of time. Hoping to increase production. Thanks for the idea!!

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