Every once in a while when reading an article about email productivity I’ll see a reference to the book Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work by Julie Morgenstern. Right up front I’ll say that I haven’t read the book, but have seen it referenced enough to know the idea behind the technique. From this Lifehacker article Top 10 Smart and Lazy Ways to Save Your Workday:
Author of Never Check Email in the Morning Julie Morgenstern suggests waiting for one hour before you open up your email inbox in the morning. Accomplishing something out of the gate sets the tone for the rest of your day, Morgenstern says, and once you’ve launched your email client, you’re “open for business” and paying attention to incoming requests.
In theory it sounds great. But I’m going to play contrarian to that viewpoint. Working under the assumption that you don’t literally roll out of bed and check your email (I don’t particularly think that’s healthy, I like to hit the gym up first thing in the morning), and working under the assumption that you have good email habits like I’ve outlined in prior posts (filtering non important emails, only checking email at set intervals, keeping your inbox empty, etc), then I think checking email is the absolute smartest thing to do when you first sit down to work in the morning.
Here’s why. As a business owner (or, really anyone with an important job) you’re constantly running into little “emergencies”. It seems crazy to think that whatever little productive task you’re accomplishing at the beginning of the day is more important than putting out a fire. If our server is down, I get a text message alert and I’m on it no matter what time of day. Otherwise, anything important I get notified via email. I auto-filter out the unimportant stuff (like newsletters and notifications of sales that come through DI) so that my inbox generally consists of customer service questions, email alerts of odd things that happen on our sites, emails from my partners, and stuff related to my blog. The blog stuff can wait, and usually does. The rest of it is far more important than anything else I would have been working on.
On any given day my project work typically involves working on programming a feature for DI or LP, or working on some marketing initiative related to one or the other. A routine customer service question for DI might involve someone having trouble checking out or applying a coupon code. An email alert might involve someone who hit refresh during checkout and got charged twice. My partners might have noticed a bug on one of the sites. Which seems more important to you? Taking care of your customers is and always will be more important than establishing positive momentum on my work day. For me, I’m more stressed out working on programming something when I know there could be stuff sitting in my inbox that is holding up someone from getting their order shipped out today. It doesn’t make a difference if the new feature is delayed by a few hours or a few days even, but it does matter if there’s a customer waiting on a reply or something is seriously wrong with one of our sites.
Essentially, for me it boils down to this. Emergencies always supersede project work. And if you are trying to provide great customer service, that too should also supersede project work.
I feel like this translates well to other jobs too. No matter what type of work you do, there’s always unforeseen things that should immediately jump to the top of your priority list. If you have clients that have a major issue with their site, you’re better off all around just knowing about it right away and fixing it ASAP. They’ll be happier and you’ll be happier. And if it isn’t a major issue, you’ll feel better emailing them an ETA on the fix, and they’ll feel better by hearing from you.
Now of course, if you took this too far you’d have your inbox open all day long and constantly be interrupted. Which is why I prefaced this by saying that if you’re like me (you have projects and customer service, both of which are important) you’ve got to be relatively strict with when you have your inbox open and when you don’t. The big difference with the morning is that it’s likely been 12+ hours since your last email check. Adding an extra hour, especially when you have shipping windows like us, doesn’t make sense. Not checking email again until noon or 4 PM isn’t a big deal because those people are waiting a few hours at most. I’ve added a quick email check to my day around 1 PM because I know that’s the latest I can contact someone in the warehouse and get something adjusted before FedEx arrives around 2:30. I tend to check around 8:30 AM, 1 PM, and 5:30 PM, and it works out great – prompt replies for customers, especially during business hours, and still plenty of time with my inbox closed so I can get stuff done.
Anyway, in theory the idea of waiting to check your email might make sense, but in practice it just doesn’t work for me.