Monday morning email
When you get on your computer Monday morning after a long weekend of not reading emails (or maybe just paying less attention to emails), you might find yourself drowning in an inbox flooded with items and people demanding your attention. Your screen might say something like: “INBOX (1,000,000).”
Personally, I use FollowUpThen and often set email reminders for Monday mornings, so my inboxes tend to fill up to the brim with reminders and action items by the time I wake up and begin working. (More on FollowUpThen from me at a later date, but if you would like to check it out before then you can go here.)
People tend to spend a lot of time in the morning responding to emails–often taking up to several hours responding to every message in their inbox. [And if you have several email accounts with many “important” (Read: ostensibly urgent, but ultimately un-important) messages like I do, you can do the math and see that we spend a lot of time responding to emails.]
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We do this because it feels like a productive use of time to cross something off our lists and get to inbox zero in the morning. Multiple unread messages tend to make many of us uncomfortable and the number next to your inbox can certainly create a false sense of urgency.
By spending your first several hours or even minutes of your day responding to emails, however, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Mornings, for both larks and night owls, are some of the most precious and productive hours of the day.
Brian Tracy, author of “Eat That Frog!” opined that the first thing one should do in the morning is the most onerous task–that is, the task that you’ve avoided and absolutely despise.
It’s because once you have finished that task, each other item on your agenda for the day will be easier by comparison, and thus easier to tackle. This will give your day true momentum.
Conventional wisdom points an opposite direction–it would seem that we should start with an easy task to ease our way into our days. Many people thus attempt to dip their toes into work by reading and responding to emails. Do not fall victim to this trap. Your morning hours are some of your most productive. If you’re a night owl, they may also tend to be your most creative.
Therefore, you should do tasks in the morning that are somewhat difficult, engaging, and need some level of creativity or deeper thinking. Emails clearly do not fit into this category. With emails, you are responding to a prompt you’ve been given by someone else. You are essentially living your life on someone else’s schedule by placing emails at the top of your action list, and ultimately, letting others dictate how you spend your time and energy. With emails, you are generally not creating, engaging, or thinking, but merely responding.
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10-Second Email Review
Here’s a method that works: next time you go to work in the morning, I challenge you to open your email for just 10 seconds. That is all the time you need to see what kinds of things are on the horizon. Any longer and you will want to start opening and responding. Do not open any emails, just read descriptions and from who.
Next, select an item from your to-do list that is either creative or requires heightened focus. (I think depending on your chronotype and type of learner/worker you are will differentiate here about what task you choose, but more on this from me later.) Brian Tracy would tell you to pick the item you dislike or fear the most–this works a lot of the time. If you work for someone else in a job you dislike, you might have a lot of these tasks from which to select.
I like to pick activities that are “important, but not urgent,” from the Eisenhower Matrix when I can. Then once I’ve eaten lunch and am hitting a mid-afternoon lull, I start looking at emails. My energy picks back up again in the late evening several hours after dinner because I am a night owl, so I tend to check my emails again right after dinner while my energy is lower.
Caveat: some people work jobs where your work = your inbox, and this advice is less useful, but I’d still say that you should, where possible, delay them after you’ve done some creative/difficult work first thing in the morning, to the extent possible
Author: Ryan Ullman
Ryan Ullman is an attorney at the boutique law firm Spence | Brierley in Baltimore, Maryland. He is particularly interested in technology, productivity, peak flow states, music, and the outdoors.