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I was wondering what the most optimal time to check and process emails is. Having bought a smartphone, I can access email anytime now, but the beep of new messages, while gratifying, is also distracting, especially because a touchscreen keyboard is not conducive to writing longer replies. Is there a time in which you feel its most effective to sit down and check emails, or

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6 Answers

I make it a point to check email only once a day, this was largely inspired by Tim Ferris' book the Four Hour Work Week. Currently I check my personal email at night, and my work email in the morning. I believe Tim suggests checking your email in the late morning, so that you can get some work done without being distracted by thinking the new stuff that came in, but still gives you time in the afternoon to handle them.

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I read mail on the following moments:

  • My iPhone fetches mail every hour. It has a counter, however it doesn't make a sound. So whenever I check my iPhone and there's a counter, I check my mail; purely out of curiosity. Actions comming with the mail I do not carry out.
  • On my mac/workpc I don't have a notifier/counter/sound. I check my email only on my GTD moments: on 11:30 (work), 16:30(work) and 21:00(private).

Actions that comes with email I only perform on my GTD moments. Or, if priority is very very high or taskduration is very low, I do it instantly.

Tips:

  • Disable notifiers (I have them on my phone for curiosityfeeding...;-) )
  • Plan moments to read/action your mail. Schedule them in your agenda! Block your time. It's important to keep up with your mail.
  • GTD'ify your mailclient.
  • Keep your inbox clean. Declutter labels, use a minimal theme (new gmail is awesome), etc.
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My two fixed times are first thing in the morning on my commute to work - so I can be prepared before getting into the office if something drastic has happened overnight, and on the commute home so if something happens at end of day I can delegate to a team on overnight or send a response back to let the sender know it will get actioned the following day.

Aside from that, checking at natural breaks works for me, so I turn notifiers off and only check when I have completed a task so I can then continue with my next task or reprioritise.

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Checking on the commute to work generally works best only if the commute is not via car :) –  jrdioko Aug 3 '11 at 23:49
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Hahahaha - absolutely @jrdioko. We don't condone email reading while driving, operating heavy machinery or scuba diving –  Rory Alsop Aug 4 '11 at 7:46
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Most effective for those (most of us!) that don't need to answer immediately, would be checking 2-3 times a day. Best is to NOT check first thing in the morning, as it would most probably just distract you from real work. Better is to first do an important task (one you need to do anyway today) and only afterwards check mail for the first time. Repeat at lunch, and 1 hour before you close shop. O, and don't read mail the minute you want to go home, as it probably contains an "important" mail that would have you make more hours than you'f like

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There isn't a best time for everyone. If you are asking this question, you are likely checking e-mail entirely too often though. Turn off that beep! I find turning off e-mail received notifications and filters/folders to be critical. The former stops me from being tempted to check too often. The later lets me scan the more important e-mails quickly and leave the rest for once or twice a day.

As far as when to check, the best "time" is when it isn't interrupting your thought process. Right before/after you go to the restroom/take a break/etc. The other key is to check less often. Try to halve it at first. If you typically check every 30 minutes, try once an hour.

Another good time is while waiting for a meeting to start. Even though you aren't going to compose a long reply on a smartphone, you can delete e-mails you don't need to reply to and reply to the ones that only require a sentence or two of reply. I like the feature to "mark as unread" because I can indicate that I still need to reply and I didn't "really" read it. (I don't do zero inbox from my BlackBerry; only my actual e-mail client.)

Also see some tips for getting less e-mail/organizing it.

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It depends how important email is to your job. In my job, I have to answer it, but programming, writing, and meeting with people are far more important. So for me the most productive time to read email is at most once per day and at my least productive time of day. This is typically late afternoon or mid-evening.

If email is your entire job, flip the process and use your best time of day for email. But most of us should use our worst time of day.

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