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How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… or Once Every 10 Days



If you don’t yet use Twitter, don’t start. It’s pointless e-mail on steroids. I had to laugh when I saw a post by the one-and-only Robert Scoble on the 19th titled “Productivity up 200%, Twitter Down.”

E-mail (and all of its Crackberry/digital leash/Twitter cousins) is the largest single interruption in modern life. In a digital world, creating time therefore hinges on minimizing e-mail. The fastest method I’ve found for controlling the e-mail impulse is to set up an autoresponder that indicates you will be checking e-mail twice per day or less. This is an example of “batching” tasks (performing like tasks at set times, between which you let them accumulate), and your success with batching will depend on two factors:

1. Your ability to train others to respect these intervals
and, much more difficult,
2. Your ability to discipline yourself to follow your own rules

Think your boss won’t go for it? You’d be surprised. Here is one example from a SXSW attendee. His two e-mail to me have been combined with a bit of editing for length.

Hey Tim,

Here’s what i took away from your presentation (and put into action!):

I sent out an email to everyone in my division letting them know i’ll only be checking email at 11a & 4p. I’ve included my email down below:

“Hi all…

In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency I am beginning a new personal email policy. I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through my inbox and less time focused on the task at hand. It has become an unnecessary distraction that ultimately creates longer lead times on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

Going forward I will only be checking/responding to email at 11a and 4p on weekdays. I will try and respond to email in a timely manner without neglecting the needs of our clients and brand identity.

If you need an immediate time-sensitive response… please don’t hesitate to call me. Phones are more fun anyways.

Hopefully this new approach to email management will result in shorter lead times with more focused & creative work on my part. Cheers & here’s to life outside of my inbox! “

So far the response has been very receptive and supportive. Here’s the quick “reply to all” email response i got from our senior operations manager (he oversees 5 radio stations. and most of the people in the building):

“Tim,
AWESOME time management approach!!! I would love to see more people adopt that policy.
-C.”

I’m sticking to it and it’s making my days more productive already. As the days are progressing, more people are “on the bus” with respecting my new email policy and i havent had any snags (even with SXSW going on - and i work in Austin radio, so we’re all swamped this week). However, every single person feels like it just wouldn’t work for them if they did it. (”oh, but i’m on too many mailing lists” or “All i do is work in my email box, i have to.” i’m sure you’ve heard it all before).

As far as your presentation… A major thing i took away is applying the concept of 80/20 to my workflow. I’ve always known i waste a great deal of time on things that ultimately aren’t showing the bulk of my ROI. Hearing you present it in a new light enabled me to start actively weeding out the time wasting clients & processes. I do a lot of work that our interns should be doing. So i’ve begun designating responsibility appropriately, thus freeing up my plate for the more relevant tasks. It will be a slow process, but senior management is on the same page with me.

Cheers,

Tim Duke
KROX & KBPA - Interactive Brand Manager


Here is a shorter autoresponder another attendee successfully implemented:

Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!

-Tom

My personal e-mail autoresponder limits me to once per day and indicates “I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell.” My business e-mail autoresponder, on the other hand, gives me the option to check email once every 7-10 days. Shoot a note to timothy@brainquicken.com to see how it’s done.

The real hard part, of course, is keeping yourself away from that damn inbox. Get on a strict low-information diet and focus on output instead of input; your wallet and weekends will thank you for it.


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