Time-management pundits are always harping on how we waste time reading emails first thing in the morning. I think they’re full of manure.
First of all, a Marketo study found that 58% of people read email first thing in the morning, many reading email before they even eat breakfast. Is it just addiction — or is there a good reason for it?
As a small business owner, I have a HUGE reason for reading email first thing in the morning: my customers matter to me more than anything. Most of my clients and students communicate with me via email, so taking care of their needs first thing in the morning is simply good customer service.
Why do the time management folks act like email is evil? Because we don’t segregate “important” email from “read this when you get a chance” email.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with reading email first, just like there’s nothing wrong with writing your blog post first each morning or doing yoga first thing or working on a major project first thing. You have to pick your priorities and you have to focus on the task at hand. It’s all about goal setting and self-discipline.
- For instance, I do not use my personal email address when signing up for ezines and email newsletters. That way, my personal Inbox doesn’t get crowded with non-essentials and stops a lot of spam from ever reaching me. If something is in my personal Inbox, it’s because it’s important, like an email from a client, student or my business partner. (A colleague told me that she has 2,500 new emails each morning. My question to her is: WHY do you allow so many emails get into your personal Inbox? They can’t possibly all be of the same importance level.)
- Another reason I read email first is that it’s the only real quiet time I have during my working hours. Typically the phone doesn’t start ringing until 9AM and using the pre-phone time to read email allows me to focus.
- I’ve delegated much of my email reading to my business partner who handles any routine customer service questions from people who have bought my programs or students who have lost their login ID.
- I quickly scan my new emails and only answer those ones that are most urgent. I leave the rest of them for later in the day, after I’ve done my other daily prep work.
- Finally, I read email first because it’s when I’m the freshest and smartest. Do you really want to be writing emails when your brain is fuzzy?
If email is an important part of communicating with your customers then go ahead and read it first thing. Just pay strict attention to whether you’re keeping focused on the Communicating With Customers task or veering off to read articles, news, jokes, quotations, or watching YouTube videos of Surprised Kitty instead of doing your work. Set a time limit, say 30 minutes, and get through the most important emails first.
Great tips, I’m a firm believer in getting to email first thing in the morning. It gives you the information you need to shape your day.
Sorry, I agree with the pundits. My clients are multi-talented creative people who are usually working on many projects that need that unsullied clean slate in the morning. We’re already overwhelmed with ideas. Email introduces new demands from others and new distractions that draw us away from our purpose. For example, if I check my email before I work on my screenplay in the morning, I’m dead. I start putting out fires for my clients and I never get back. My clients are important, but some things are more important. Others’ questions and to-dos will always keep until after I’ve made some progress on the projects that matter to me most, whether they are creative, spiritual or health-related. These things require discipline, so people need to give themselves a fighting chance by giving them the first fruits of their attention every day, in my opinion. If you get up early enough, it’s still early in the day when you turn your attention to your other work and to the demands of others, having already accomplished something of long-term importance to you.
That said, you make good points about using your personal email only for important messages, screening your email before opening and delegating some email management to others. This is good advice for anyone!
And if you know you’re a type who is easily distracted (the renaissance people who are my “tribe” come to mind) you really need to remove temptation by unsubscribing from all but the most essential lists.
co-author “The DaVinci Dilemma (TM) – Solutions for Multi-Talented People (2011)
it is always a pleasure to read your articles.
They seem to bring me to the exact edge of what I need to seriously look at without all the hype and rigmarole.
Thanks for the great article, Karyn.
Your articles are a “refreshingly” calm, sane, no-hype voice out there.
I agree. It’s a matter of sorting, focusing and keeping to our priorities.
Perhaps it depends on a person’s business model?
I’ve read that e-mail is on it’s way out.
Someone forgot to tell a lot of people!
Looking forward to your next article.
For the same reasons you indicated, I tend to read email first thing and get my main inbox to 0 – and then I blaze off into the other work of the day. That’s the key!
The email open all day is the danger zone…
As one of “those time management experts”, I have to weigh in. Karyn, I think you have an excellent point that there is nothing wrong with starting with email if you can be disciplined enough to deal with the customer facing email that can’t wait. Your day should absolutely have time blocked out for email, but I would argue that most people start with email and waste away much of their most productive time of the day there – usually on ezines, jokes, and other non-urgent email. If you are going to check first thing, limit yourself to 10-15 minutes.
I’m constantly reading advice that warns us to stop wasting time on email in the morning. I’ve wondered if I was being foolish because I’ve chosen to ignore that advice, but seeing your post reassures me of my decision.
I couldn’t agree with you more. As an online business owner almost all of my contact is via email and I feel it’s vital for me to stay on top of communications from customers, prospects and potential JV partners.
Bravo on this much-needed post!
Hear! Hear! I agree – so much communication, real, relevant, important communication takes place by email. It’s very helpful tool. And can quickly go awry and become unmanageable.
This is helpful. I like the idea of the 2nd email addresses, but I have a hard time keeping things separated. 2 feels like not enough.
For instance, what do you do with the newsletters you DO want to subscribe to, but DON’T want to read every morning? They’re not spam, but they’re not clients and close friends either.
I also like the time-boxing idea too. That’s very helpful for stuff that can just bleed into your day without you realizing it. Sometimes I use an alarm clock even!
Thanks for this pragmatic post.
I agree. Traditional time managers see email–and regular mail and social networking–as irrelevant time-wasters. Your perspective values people, connecting, relationships, and communication. Relationships build trust. And business is becoming more and more about ‘Who do you trust?’ and ‘Who are your filters?’.
WOW! Karyn, you will definetly ruffle a few feathers with this blog. I am so glad you touched on this topic.
Sometimes, I feel guilty because I read my emails first. Often,you hear all of the experts saying don’t read email first thing in the morning.
Thank you for stepping up to say its ok to business owners, to do what works best for them.
Valerie Taloni (The Goal Diva)
Karyn, I’m with you. I check my email first thing in the morning. There are two things I’ve done that have helped tremendously with managing my email. 1) I use MS Outlook for my email and have set various “rules” so my emails are automatically categorized as they come into my inbox. Ezines and any emails from lists I’m on drop to the bottom of my inbox automatically and my primary business emails show up at the top, so it’s easy to priortize. Sometimes it may be a day or two before I look at those emails at the bottom of my inbox, but that’s OK. 2) I’ve also shut off the notification that tells me an email has arrived in my inbox, thereby eliminating the temptation to constantly check email. I check email throughout the day every few hours instead of every few minutes.
Thanks for all your comments! Wow!
I should mention a few more things I do that may give you an idea:
1. Like Valerie, I set “rules” in my email system to emails go into different folders. Then I can concentrate just on two folders each morning: the one called “Client Mail” and the one called “Prospects.” If something lands in one of these folders, it’s important.
2. I carve out all day on Friday to work on projects like writing a new class or a new book. No client calls, and emails on Fridays get handled in the afternoon. I also don’t take client calls on Monday mornings before 11AM so I can work on my To Do list for the week and think about my goals.
When I was growing up, I was untidy and undisciplined. But I taught myself how to be disciplined and organized once I became self-employed. I couldn’t be successful without this self-discipline, which also includes NOT answering the phone or email when I’m heads-down working hard on a project. So if you despair in ever being organized or disciplined, take it from someone who isn’t naturally that way — you CAN learn how to do it! 🙂
Hope this helps!
I leave messages in my inbox that I want to answer that day. I do check in the morning to see if there is anything urgent, yet I don’t answer them until I have time set aside to do so. I put the rest of my emails in folders.
I’m always asking myself what do I need to do first? This applies to email messages as well as other things on my to do list. And, it might even apply to taking a nap or walk!
Thank you for this wonderful “email” while I drink my tea this morning. When I first read Julie Morgenstern’s book titled “Never Check Email First Think In The Morning” I felt conflicted. This is my time to return emails to coaching clients and other business related communication. Yet, I do tend to stray a bit. Reading your newsletter, is it “important business” or “read it when I have time” email?” It is growth and nourishment for me, yet is right now, early morning, the time to read it? Truth is if I put it on “hold” it might not get read. I have to choose to elevate it to ‘important’ VS just ‘interesting’ in order for it to get read; and I DO like reading your wonderful newsletters Karyn! Thanks for your great insight and encouragement. judi
Jacquie, CastAway the Clutter!
Great tips! I too, for the most part, read my emails first thing, because generally I have no choice. I generally work with organizing clients outside my office during the day, so I do my desk work first thing and at the end of the day. If I’m working in my office for the day, I have to set strict limits for computer work, especially if I have a project that I’m working on. In that instance, I may not check email in the morning, because I know it will drag on for longer than planned. It’s all about prioritizing. There’s nothing like a 9:30AM client appointment to get me moving! Thanks!
It took a lot of testing, but I’ve worked out a system that keeps me pretty well on top of things now. I think the key is to find out what system works best for YOU. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some mornings, I do check my email first thing. Other mornings are blocked out as pure creative time or working on a client project I must focus fully on. So… for me, it depends. The secret ingredient seems to be: I design every single day (often the night before), so I am very purposeful and intentional in the morning, no matter what the activities are.
Also, I’m an Outlook user and found a nifty tool that has helped me process and sort my email faster (using rules, I ended up forgetting to check those internal folders and missed some important messages!). It’s called Quick-File, and is an Outlook add-on. (I’m not an affiliate or a pusher or anything, it’s just given me a boost to my productivity and I like the product.) Using it, I can zip through my inbox pretty quickly now and file away what I need to save or read for later (Friday morning is my ezine/newsletter reading time), and isolate the critical messages.
Anyway… I think email is here to stay for at least a while longer (I hope so, because my 80-year-old Mom is finally learning how to do email!!!), so it’s great, Karyn, that you are on the case & helping us hone our systems for using it as the powerful tool it can be!
I agree, Martha. There’s no one-size-fits-all system for running a business (though don’t we all wish there were?). My email system wouldn’t work for some of my colleagues, and their filing system wouldn’t work for me. I think the best we can do it read about how others do things, and if something resonates with me, try it to see if it works in real life for me. The best system is the one you create yourself. 🙂
Thank you for understanding the importance of reading email at the beginning of the work day. I have become used to doing this so I have a better idea of how my day will play out. We actually have a 3-rule at my office. We read email first thing, then at 1:00 pm and again at 4:30. That way we can remain superbly responsive while still getting all our other tasks completed.
That sounds like a smart email plan, Lee. 🙂
The flip side, knowing this information, means your email marketing should be sent out over night so it lands in the inbox for first thing in the morning.
I hate getting emails in the middle of my day, I hardly ever read them, even though I signed up for them and would really like to.
Nothing wrong with checking email in the morning. I do it all the time!
Excellent insight…I try to set up my emails so they’ll land in email boxes around 6AM or so.
Great article! And like many of the commenters, I agree that there’s no “one size fits all” in determining our best personal productivity style.
For me, after exercising and showering each morning (whether walking dog, yoga, swimming, etc.), I grab a cup of tea and write for an hour.
Usually b/c I’m overcome with creativity while working out.
Then it’s on to email, morning tweets and Facebook posts. Like you, I have different email addresses, my team handles the routine inquiries and I use rules.
I love that you have a morning routine that warms you up for your day. 🙂 Sometimes I wish I could just write and write for weeks at a time. The more I write, the more creativity is unleashed.
As a professional organizer, I agree 100% with Jacquie. I check it out first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon when I get back to my office. I cannot tell you how many times one of my clients has sent me an email in the middle of the night postponing an appointment for the next day. This is the only way, sometimes, that I know about it. I assign enough time in the morning to put out some fires before heading out for the day and then when I return again in the afternoon. I do not have a smart phone and I personally thing that is “smart” of me. It helps me leave the email on my PC and prevents me from feeling the need to check it 100 times a day when I am out. That helps me tremendously with time management and handling emails. I also set a designated amount of time to deal with the emails so it forces me to select the most important to deal with. The others I get to when I have some down time at the end of the day.
I agree, Audrey. I like to “segment” my email time to focus solely on email several times a day, which allows me lots of truly focused time to work with clients, write books, or design new classes. I can’t be productive and efficient if I’m checking email 10 times a day.
I *try* to take a quick scan at my ‘to do’ list before I go online.
Quick means … just enough so that when I go into my email box, I have, in the back of my mind, whatever *I* need to accomplish today.
Then I go on line, to email and social media – sometimes needing my Time Timer to limit my time there – so that I can check in with colleagues, clients, trends and read a little bit.
That wakes me up, gets me into the groove and ready to hit my to do list … which, while I’ve been online, has been pulling at my mind to get cracking!
Email and social media certainly are a good “warm up” for the brain (and fingers), aren’t they, Sue? 🙂
I combine strategies to manage my email. First, I have multiple mailboxes. I use one only to sign up for mailings and updates. I also have one only for personal email. Since I don’t have an assistant (yet), I have three business mailboxes, so I’m ready when I do have an assistant, and so types of correspondence are separated: One for me personally, one for information requests, and one for administrative correspondence.
I also use rules to sort my email into folders. Apple Mail shows how many unread messages I have in each folder, so I don’t have to open them unless I want to check the contents. I’ve set up folders that sort my email by source, topic or priority. For example, I have an Updates folder for social media notifications, a Client folder, a Bank folder, and an Accounts folder. I have two folders for newsletters to separate the “must-read” from the “only if I have time.” (Karyn, you are in the “must-read” folder.) I have folders to sort B2B advertising and B2C advertising.
When I want to check my email quickly, I scan the contents of the mailboxes and folders that are most important and have new mail. I save everything else for spare moments (like just before lunch) or the end of the day.
I’ve never been able to zero out my inbox in one pass, but my system allows me to respond promptly to the highest priority messages.
Hey, Deb, thanks for putting me in the Must Read folder!! 🙂
I do something similar to what you’re doing…multiple email addresses for different types of correspondence, multiple Inbox folders (auto-sorted). That way, I can read emails from clients, prospects, students and colleagues first, then get to everything else when I have time.
What can I say? I scan the emails after I stop the alarm and before I get out of bed. :)))
I barely have my eyes open.
But I must admit that I even if I use a different email address for newsletters, I still get some of them to my personal email address.
So that is one thing that I need to improve.
Same here, Eugen. I look at email first thing each morning — AFTER I get a cup of coffee. 🙂
Same here, I have different mailboxes for various group of people & purpose. It makes it simpler to prioritize that way. Reading my emails in the morning—is just a natural flow for me 😀 Plus, you just gave me an idea on how to keep my subscriptions separate — I’m going to designate another email for it. I’m already doing it duh, I just need to be reminded Lol! Thanks Karyn 😀 On a side note, there’s no such thing as time management anyways, it’s really “self management.” We can’t manage time, we can only manage ourselves 😀
You make a GREAT point, Cherry. We can only manage ourselves. A little self-discipline means you can get through your email each day without getting distracted or side-tracked by reading email that’s not important. Or, as Stephen Covey says, “Big Rocks First!” 🙂
I’m with you, Karyn,
Yes, I check my email first thing in the AM and I continue to check it through the day.
I delete or postpone reading much of it or I move it to a different folder, but I note what’s important. And I check incoming email throughout the day.
Some of it is really important. Some of it responds to my requests for information. Some of it represents new assignments.
I’m moderately disciplined at reading what counts and overlooking the garbage.
I love that there are other people like me who do check email first thing in the morning. I wondered if I might be the only one left.
Having read some of those time-management articles that say not to, I just realized I have created a filter in my mind that has been pushing that thought ‘I shouldn’t be checking in the morning’ around for some time. I love to clear my email so I can get on with my day. Now…well…I won’t need that mind filter to push it away. No need to feel a little guilty that work the way I do! I can be just fine the way I am:)
This post just made me smile:)
You make a good point, Susan. No sense feeling guilty about what other people say you “should” do with your time. 😉
Nice post Karyn. Good points and good advice.
Thanks, Jon! 🙂
I love getting others’ perspectives on just about everything and this one didn’t disappoint. I check my email first thing to see if I need to be aware of anything with my clients accounts or if they need a response to something that changes their day. I have one account for my clients.
At the same time, I, too, have an email address for all my subscriptions and lesser important email, so I don’t need to look at it until later. I would spend the entire day on email in that account if I allowed myself.
Thanks again for a thoughtful article, Karyn!
I like the idea of having one email address account just for your clients, Bea. That way you can check it first and give yourself some focus.
I adopted a ‘Power 90’ habit this year.
No email, no social media, no Skype, etc – until I’ve had my personal quiet time and spent at least 60 minutes on a top priority project that will make me money.
This is a massive change for me and it can be darned tough to follow… I have to say, it’s paying off.
I like what you say about making your customers a priority and like the idea that I’m not going to have to wait for a reply – but I wonder if that ‘first thing’ email checking couldn’t be better managed by a good VA in many cases?
For me, the emails I get from clients are consulting-type questions, brainstorming-type questions, and requests to review marketing materials they’re creating. That’s not something a VA can handle, that’s part of my service to my consulting clients. My husband, who is my business partner, takes care of prospective client emails, student login questions, etc. which frees me up tremendously.
Some days, like this week, my top priority is working on a new ebook I’m writing. So emails won’t be touched until after lunch. But I’ve notified my clients that I’m not available via email in the mornings, so they’re expectations of me are clear.
The key, I think, is knowing what your priorities are based on your goals, and knowing those priorities can shift from week-to-week depending on the projects/tasks you want to get done. Sometimes your priority is to answer consulting clients and sometimes it’s to get the writing on an ebook finished. 🙂
What I respect most about your posts is their reflection of your authenticity. They are real, great perspectives and easily applicable.
I am an “open mail before projecting” girl. I love your idea for different folders.
Thanks for a great post!
Thanks, Cheryl. Typically I write posts about how I run my business effectively and efficiently, or I write posts based on conversations I have with my clients/students and their topics of interest. That way I can almost always guarantee that the information will be helpful and timely. 🙂
Yay! Finally someone who thinks the same way I do! I can’t even imagine starting to work without checking to see if anything more urgent has come up. Being able to determine that quickly is key.
You’re right, Janet. If the structure of your day is determined by priorities, and something comes up (which you’re notified by email) that’s important, that has to be added to today’s To Do list. Even a quick scan of email will tell you if there’s an urgent message that needs to be dealt with.
The trick, of course, is to not get sucked into reading ALL your emails, especially the unimportant ones. 🙂