For the last few months, I’ve been running a personal experiment inspired by Tim Ferriss: I only check email twice a day, at 11am and 4pm.
As a result, I now spend a total of 20 minutes per day on emails. I feel 50% more productive, and in most cases the quality of my interactions/comms have improved.
A few others at the company have started doing this as well. I thought I’d write up a quick recap and tips for anyone who’s interested in trying it themselves.
The most productive time of my day BY FAR is 9am-11am, before I’ve checked my first email. Just simply looking at your inbox in the morning instantly creates mental clutter that gets in the way of actual work. If you dedicate this time to actual work, especially long-form projects/docs/presentations, you’ll be more productive than you’ve ever been.
My big fear was that the quality of interactions with coworkers would decline. So far, that’s not been an issue. In fact, for the most part it’s actually improved, since I’m doing Hangouts/calls/in-person visits more often.
On average, I see about 30-40 emails queued up for each of the two email sessions. I usually get through them in 10 min each session. Email overload is a lot less painful when it’s only 20 minutes per day.
For this to actually work, you need to do the following:
1) Have a triage system for going through emails:
- If it takes less than 2 minutes to reply: reply
- If it takes more: file it as a “to-do” and do it later during your work time
- If it’s not actionable or relevant, archive it
- I recommend brushing up on the GTD framework and Inbox Zero, buying the excellent Things app (on the Mac App Store. super expensive but worth every penny).
2) Make yourself available through more immediate channels like Hipchat, Hangouts, Gchat, text, phone, or in-person (ideally all of them).
- Your email policy is a quid pro quo; in exchange for being late to reply to emails, you need to be super-responsive elsewhere. My policy is to be available day and night on these other channels.
3) Let others know about your policy
- I include this link at the bottom of all my emails: Why you shouldn’t expect an immediate email reply from me. Alternatively, you can use an autoresponder.
At any time, you’re allowed to write new emails without checking your inbox first.
- For example, if you have an important long-form email to compose (for me, it’s product roadmap/progress updates to stakeholders)
- Here’s the url to open a Gmail compose screen (without seeing the inbox): https://mail.google.com/mail/?view=cm
You’ll allowed to search your inbox and reply to specific emails, without checking the inbox first.
- For example, when you file away a previous email to reply to later, then you find time to write the reply later.
- Here’s the url to search Gmail (without seeing the inbox): https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/[searchterm]
I recommend making these into address bar shortcuts: http://superuser.com/questions/468547/how-can-i-create-a-url-shortcut-in-chrome
Use Gmail shortcuts. As much as humanly possible: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/6594?hl=en
If this isn’t for you:
I’d recommend a halfway approach: just don’t check your email for the first 2 hours in the morning. You’ll be more productive in that chunk of time than the rest of your day combined, for the reasons stated above.
In any case, it’s not about the specific practice, but rather the principle of focusing on output, not input.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out. I’m still tweaking my approach, so I’d love to hear from others who are experimenting with this.