Productivity experts say you shouldn't check your email first thing in the morning. However, I do check my email first thing in the morning. Here's how I do it and remain productive.
Not too long ago, I read that it's a waste to spend the first part of your day checking email. After all, email (and social media) are low-cognitive tasks. Spending your valuable productive time during the first part of the day to deal with your email can sap your energy, making you less able to handle other tasks later.
To a certain extent, I can understand this perspective. If I don't get my work done before lunch, there's a good chance that it's not going to be done that day. Using your peak productivity hours to answer email can be a waste.
However, I check my email first thing in the morning, and even address some of my emails during that time. Rather than causing productivity problems, it actually helps me. That's because compartmentalize my mornings and checking my email is part of that.
When (and How) I Check My Email
My morning involves getting my son off to school, so I try to use that time to accomplish low-cognitive tasks and get them out of the way before the day truly gets started.
Here's how things usually play out between 6:00 am and 7:45 am:
- I wake up when my alarm goes off. I usually lay there and check my social media on my phone, and go through my inbox on my phone. All the stuff I don't need to deal with is deleted right there, before I get out of bed.
- Head to the computer (it's nice to be able to start my workday in my pajamas) and write a “news” post for one of my clients.
- Once that's posted, I head to the kitchen, where I put the kettle on to heat up water to brew my Crio Bru chocolate. While I wait for the water to heat up, I usually assemble my son's lunch and get his breakfast ready.
- It takes 12 minutes for the chocolate to brew in the French press. While that is happening, I head back into my office and complete another “news” post for another client.
- When that post is done, I head back into the kitchen, and pour out my chocolate. I also check to make sure my son is on track to be ready to go to school.
- While I sip my chocolate, I answer emails that don't require a lot of depth. I can usually get through my inbox pretty well during this time. As part of this, I send an email to my VA, with information about which posts need to be promoted.
- After that's done, it's usually time for me to put on my workout clothes and walk with my son to the bus stop.
Once my son is off to school, I exercise, and then I clean myself up and sit down to the computer to work. Since I've got my email and social media out of the way, the “real” start of my day sees me feeling good from the exercise, and feeling professional because I'm dressed. I am ready to get going with work that requires more concentration.
This schedule has been one of my freelance productivity experiments, and so far it's worked out pretty well. Later, after lunch, I can revisit my email and social media. But I like to check my email in the morning because it gets it out of the way, and helps me keep my inbox under control in a way that keeps me from getting distracted by what I have to do, and by what's sitting there.
There are few things that distract me more than knowing I have a full email inbox just sitting there. Being able to get it out of the way early on, and do it as part of the morning that is full of distractions anyway, helps me later. It gets some of the low-cognitive activities out of my way before my work day starts in earnest.
Of course, this might not work for everyone. How do you check your email? What's your approach to other low-cognitive activities?