Ignorance is Productive
When it comes to email, ignorance is bliss. That’s why if you’ve got something important you want to make progress on, I have these four words for you:
Don’t Check Your Email
as soon as you get up, work on something important for 30-45 minutes, and only then check it. If you can stand it, wait even longer.
And you know what? As long as you’re ignorant of everything else that’s going on outside, you can concentrate on what you want to work on.
Any new information you get can cause you to get distracted. On a quick tangent, this is also why I often don’t look at any news in the morning, don’t turn on the TV, and listen to audiobooks or even educational podcasts instead of the radio in my car – I don’t want anything to distract me. I can’t control everything but I can control my own.
It’s not Your Todo List
Do you know what is most important for you to work on? Do you know the first thing you want to do this morning? Then go ahead and do it!
On the other hand by checking email, you risk doing what someone else wants you to do. Every time you open an Email, you should consider whether it’s more important than everything else on your task list – but realistically, how many of us actually do that?
If you don’t, then the items you end up working on (even if it’s just replying and giving information) end up being tasks for other people rather than yourself.
Or more bluntly, when you check your inbox, the emails you get are a todo list someone else makes for you.
So, Who is in charge of your time – you, or the person emailing you?
It’s an excuse to Lack Direction
“Why are you checking email first thing in the morning anyway?”
Most likely the answer could be “you don’t know what you are supposed to be working on”
I am certainly not immune to this myself. If I am checking my inbox too often, that’s frequently an early warning sign that my todo list has gotten off track somewhere.
The real problem behind this behavior is that you don’t see checking email as a low priority activity, because you haven’t decided what the high priority activities area are. when you don’t have a clear list of priorities, checking email becomes an urgent activity that you do, but at the expense of your important ones.
If this strikes a nerve with you, don’t worry – it can be fixed. Find out Urgent versus Important time management matrix, and stop checking email so frequently.
Reaction or “Proaction”
when you check your email, the best case scenario is you checked at exactly the right moment, just when a super important email came in – and you can take instant action right away. How often does that actually happen? Rarely
The usual case is that, when you turn on your “check email” mode, you end up with more work to do, by replying emails regardless of their true priority.
I prefer taking proactive actions – what I call proaction. Work on the things that are important to you, regardless of whether they’re urgent or simply at the top of your inbox.
Searching for Excuses
If I’ blindly checking email, I am usually not checking for anything important – I am usually searching for an excuse to not do the work I know I must do.
I am searching for any reason why I can tell myself later I didn’t get the work done that needed to be.
Don’t fall in that trap. Don’t give yourself an out by checking your email for an excuse to fail.
It builds Expectation
A lot of people tell me “But I have to check my email! People expect a response from me”
First of all, I don’t believe it. If they do urgently awaiting your response, there are surly lots of ways to reach you, by phone, by visiting, by calling your colleague.
The more often you check email, the more often people will expect you to check it. and that’s the reason why people are EXPECTING response from you.
Just stop checking it first thing in the morning, and people won’t expect it anymore.
I know, it’s easier said than done. Don’t worry, after the first week or two, nobody will think anything of it.
Of course, there are causes you must check your email. well, if you do, constrain yourself to only check a limited subset of email, and I recommend you follow these rules
- Only check if there is something specific you are looking for or awaiting for
- Separate low value emails
- Set a time limit. Commit to checking for 5 minutes, just to look for that one piece of information, and you are done. before you open your inbox, decide what you will do if 1)the email is there 2)the email isn’t there 3)the email is incomplete. Don’t be reactionary – proactively decide what action you will take based on the outcomes you expect.