Why I Only Check Email Twice a Day
Over the Christmas break of 2013/2014, I first read Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4 Hour Work Week”. I took copious amount of notes and loved the whole idea of making your time as productive and efficient as possible. Even now, I still rate this as my favourite business book of all time. As I tend to read at least 1 new book a month, that’s another 40+ business books I’ve read since, yet I still rate it as number 1!
Even though the book itself is now over 10 years old, a lot of the principles remain relevant and useful. If you’ve not read it yourself, I highly recommend it. One of the most memorable things for me in the book, was to only check and deal with email twice a day. I dismissed this advice as crazy, as how on earth could you possibly do that these days.
At the time I was like most people are, totally addicted to email. I had my email software open on my laptop at all times with every possible notification switched on. So no matter what I was doing (or should I say, trying to do) every few minutes, there’d be a “Ping” sound, a notification would pop up in the bottom corner of my screen, the email icon would change etc. As soon as I saw this pop up, there was no way I could resist clicking it, and opening the email that just arrived. This was usually made even more tempting to open, as it displayed just enough information to make almost everything sound exciting!
Once the email was open I’d deal with it immediately and respond. This often ended up resulting in an exchange of emails being sent back and forth. It was more like online chat than email. I couldn’t see it at the time, but this was one of the main reasons I was usually having to work 14 hour days, and weekends. Instead of doing all the work I was supposed to be doing, I was actually dealing with email most of the day. I then had to play catch up and spend many more hours at the office doing what I should have done earlier.
Even when I wasn’t in front of my laptop, I was constantly dealing with email on my smartphone. Just like my laptop, this had all notifications switched on. Ironically, this meant I was never able to switch off myself. Over time this didn’t do me any good at all, and a couple of times I was near to burning myself out. Not a great situation to be in for making good decisions and running a business.
Fast forward to a couple of months later in March 2014. I had some important work to get done with a tight deadline. I decided that to avoid any distractions, I’d work from home rather than go into the office that day. What actually happened is that it got to the end of the day, and I’d not even got half way through the work. I thought about it, and I’d actually spent the majority of the day firefighting on email. I then had to work late into the night to finish everything off.
It was at this point that I realised I couldn’t carry on like this, and that email was the main reason for me being so “busy”, and never having enough time for everything. I remembered about the Tim Ferriss approach to email, and decided to at least try this for a week. I switched email off on my laptop (and the auto check function as I sometimes had to look at old emails for information), and did the same on my phone. Initially I did find this REALLY hard, and the temptation to “just have a quick look” was immense. But I managed to go cold turkey and after a couple of days it got much easier.
Three and a half years later, I’m still only checking emails twice a day as it has worked so well! I have an email autoresponder that is sent back to people as soon as they email me. It lets them know the times I usually check email, and points them to other members of my team for things I don’t need to deal with personally. It also asks them to call me on the phone if it’s urgent. I used to get lots of emails with “urgent” in the title each week (often requesting information I’d actually previously sent). Since having the autoresponder on, I’ve only had 2 of these urgent phone calls. Maybe those emails marked “urgent” weren’t so urgent after all…
So how has it changed the way I work? These days I actually do all the things I’ve planned to do (most days at least), as I’m far less distracted. This has led to me being less rushed, hassled, and stressed out. In turn this has led to me making better business decisions, and building a much better business because of it. I genuinely believe that one of the key drivers of this has been the elimination of constant email interruptions.
It also means that I’m delivering a better service to customers, and other people I deal with. This may sound counter intuitive, but it’s true. I may not be responding instantly to queries, because I’m working on the more important things to help our customers. This important customer work is pre-planned and prioritised. This means there is far less chance of letting anyone down, as I’m not just spending my day being reactive.
Hopefully all the above explains why and how I deal with email, and the improvements this has made. If a lot of the above sounds like a familiar story to you, I challenge you to try it yourself, just for a week. It may just transform the way you work for the better.