Making Email Efficient


According to Tim Ferriss:

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.

How bad is it really? A Loughborough University study “found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. So people who check their email every five minutes waste 8 1/2 hours a week figuring out what they were doing moments before.”


Not only that, email is stressful. How many times have you been right in the middle of something important, just to get distracted by a negative email coming through? Maybe it’s a nasty reply from a customer, or an argumentative email from an employee or partner. Either way, once you’re distracted by that little Outlook pop-up and ding, you have to drop what you’re doing, reply, compose yourself, and try to get back to work. It sucks.

Over the past six months or so I’ve really honed my email strategy.  It works perfectly for me, in my current situation.  I never really thought about it much until I read Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week, but once I did I realized it was a major source of stress for me.  With that, I began formulating the following “email rules” that I now strictly adhere to:

  1. Check email twice per day on weekdays, once per day on weekends. I check my email first thing in the morning around 7 AM and once again somewhere between 3 PM and 5 PM, usually when I’m wrapping up work for the day.  On weekends I generally check within a few hours of waking and that’s all.  This means that everyone gets a reply in less than 24 hours, most in less than 12. If you’re sending an email and expect a reply sooner, you probably shouldn’t be sending an email (i.e. pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk to the person if you work in the same facility).
  2. Avoid long email conversations. Every email conversation gets resolved within two emails per party. If not, I either stop replying (if it’s going nowhere) or suggest a conversation in person or over the phone. There’s no bigger time waste than 20 short emails going back and forth over the course of a day.
  3. No mobile phones for email. I’m all for having an iPhone or web enabled phone. You can do a lot of cool stuff with them. I just won’t ever use it to check my business email. We don’t work in a life or death business (and you probably don’t either). If I’m not in front of my computer, business can wait. When I’m at a ball game or having a family dinner, I’m actually at the ball game or at the dinner.
  4. Only receive emails that you need.  Yes, we set up positive reinforcement emails that are somewhat unnecessary – those are great for spirits – but I’m talking about those 50 newsletters that you’re subscribed to, or those emails that you always get CC’d on but never reply to or learn anything from.  Do everything within your power to reduce the number of emails you receive…including setting up FAQ systems like we did to minimize email contacts.

To anyone who is skeptical: I haven’t yet had a complaint from a customer, one of my partners, or any other business acquaintance.  The result has been a marked improvement in my efficiency and focus. I don’t “worry” about email because I have my set times where I check it and clear it out, and I really don’t think of it other than during those times.   Can’t beat that.

4 comments on Making Email Efficient

  1. […] in September I wrote a post entitled Making Email Efficient about how much I detest the distraction of email and what I’ve done to minimize that […]

  2. […] email twice per day.  You know how much I hate email, our worst distraction and productivity killer.  For almost every business I know, twice per day is plenty.  This means everyone gets a reply […]

  3. […] I did some more research, and eventually made some pretty big changes.  In 2008 I wrote a post Making Email Efficient in which I cited a pretty interesting study: How bad is it really? A Loughborough University study […]

  4. […] wrote a lot about how I manage my inbox several years back (see Making Email Efficient, My Email Bliss, and Not All Email is Created Equal). The methodologies outlined in those posts […]

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