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How Many Times A Day Should You Check Your Email?

How Many Times A Day Should You Check Your Email?
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    In my last post, I talked about six of the most common work habits that sabotage your productivity. The first offender on my list was how frequently you check your email. As I was writing my last article, I found that there was a ton of information on that topic, and it was really deserving of its own dedicated article.

    When it comes to our work email, most of us see it as a ball and chain. We’ve constantly got to be checking it, or risk the wrath of the bosses and co-workers that are trying to communicate with us. If we don’t respond to an email within 5 minutes, we’re seen as lazy or unproductive.

    But according to some experts, checking your email too frequently is actually a major factor that can contribute to diminished productivity. If you are one of those “every time my phone dings I must check my email immediately” sort of people, read on to discover why you may have become your own worst enemy.

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    How Often is Normal?

    So just how often does the average person check their email in a given day? It’s hard to track down reliable statistics. According to one poll, about 40% of people surveyed that they thought they checked their email between 6 and 20 times per day. Of course, it’s hard to say how accurate a person is when gauging their own email habits.

    Another survey says that 56.4% of people only check their email between 0-5 times per day. However, that study is from 2009, and arguably quite dated.

    “Never Check Your Email in the Morning”

    Oprah’s favorite organizational expert is a woman called Julie Morgenstern, author of “Never Check Email in the Morning.” Guess what she advises?

    According to Morgenstern, checking your email first thing when you get into the office each morning is problematic because it can a false sense of accomplishment. You answer 40 emails, and you feel like you’ve done a lot of work, but in reality you probably still have piles of paperwork, meetings, and phone calls to make. Answering email is essential to doing your work, but it isn’t always something that is actively making money for you or your company.

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    Productivity expert Sid Savara also agrees with Morgenstern. “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.  Some days I don’t check email at all until after lunch…Any new information you get can cause you to get distracted. I can’t control everything, but I can control my own self made distractions.”

    The 24-Hour Method

    Other people argue that rather than check your emails starting later in the day, you should just check them once per day, in the morning. Among the members of this camp is productivity expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders. She generally clears out her inbox during the first 1-2 hours of her day, and formulates her game plan for the rest of the day after that. After that, she doesn’t generally look at her email again for the rest of the day, allowing her to focus completely on business development and client projects.

    This is harder, of course, if you are at the bottom of the food chain at your company. But if you are in upper management or you are self-employed, setting this routine can be a great way to boost your productivity.

    When in Doubt, Check the Chart

    Scott Scheper checks his email twice a day, and has created a handy flow chart for helping you to blow through all the unread messages in your inbox.

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    Every time you open a new email, ask yourself 3 basic questions:
    1. Is this relevant?
    2. Can I solve this?
    3. Will it take less than 2 minutes of my time to deal with this?

    By following his handy flow chart, you’ll develop a new way to bust through your inbox more efficiently.

    5 A Day

    And just in case you hadn’t had enough conflicting expert opinions, here’s one more. Rod Kurtz of Business Week argues that you ought to be checking your work email five times per day.

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    “Check your inbox only five times daily–first thing in the morning, mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon, and end of day. Or even less if you are capable. This works when you turn off the automatic send/receive function, allowing you up to two hours to focus on your work, rather than to be continually interrupted. It works when you group the sorting of your e-mail, making you more productive and efficient in dealing with it.”

    Conclusion

    There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Make sure that you schedule your email time in such a way that you avoid confusing the two. If you approach your email with the correct attitude, you can boost your productivity by leaps and bounds.

    In the words of Scott Scheper, “A day filled with shooting the breeze with employees, answering questions, staring at emails, checking social networks and chatting with colleagues won’t make you rich. It’ll make you busy.”

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    What’s your daily email routine? Do you plan to try any of these tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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