You likely have heard this advice before. You may have even followed it for some time. You may have even read the book: Never Check Email in the Morning. But, if you’re anything like me, you tried avoiding email in the morning, and it worked for a while before you slipped back into your old habits.
We tell ourselves all kinds of stories for why we have to check email in the morning. Here are a few things I tell myself:
- It’s efficient to check and delete emails from my phone while drinking my morning coffee.
- It’s important to know what’s coming for the day.
- There may be something urgent I need to respond to.
- I can quickly scan my emails and then move on to other tasks.
Despite what I may tell myself, I am not that important. Nothing will happen if I don’t check my email all morning. And, although it may seem efficient to scan my email in the morning, it is not.
I recently read this great book by Cal Newport called Deep Work. In that book, he describes research which reveals it is harder to focus after checking email or social media. He explains that any activity you do affects your level of focus in the next activity you engage in. Thus, even if you take five minutes to scan your email or scroll through Twitter, that experience will leave a residue. The “attention residue” from email or social media is detrimental to your ability to focus on the next task. Email and social media are particularly detrimental to activities that require a high level of focus such as writing.
You will be able to achieve a higher level of focus and clarity in your writing if you get your writing done before checking your email and social media accounts.
I am Department Chair this year and I have to respond to lots of emails in that and other administrative capacities. During the Fall semester, I was able to handle those responsibilities while also getting my writing done in September and October. In November, however, I added three out-of-town trips to my already packed schedule and my writing fell by the wayside. Looking back, one of the main reasons I got so little writing done in November is that I began my days responding to emails. Once I opened my emails, it was difficult to achieve the focus I needed to make progress on my writing.
When I couldn’t focus on my writing, I turned to social media, which was a further distraction from my writing.
Thus, in the coming Spring semester, I am going to avoid email and all social media until I complete my writing tasks for the day. Then, I will limit both activities to specific times of the day.
My plan is to wake up at 6am, write for one hour, take my daughter to school, go for a run, have breakfast, and then sit down for my second writing session. Once my second session is over, I will check my emails. I then will close my email and check it again at the end of the day. At 5pm, I will log out of my email and close the program until the next day. In Deep Work, Cal Newport also recommends having an official end to the workday to allow the mind time to reset and refocus.
I also set up my phone so that I am limited to a total of 30 minutes per day on social media. I will only engage with social media once I have finished my writing and will avoid social media after dinner. This will allow me more time to spend focusing on my family as well as reading great books.
It should not be difficult for me to keep this routine during the month of January, as my semester does not officially start until January 14th and classes don’t begin until January 21st. Thus, no one expects a quick response from me during this time. My hope is that I will be emboldened and inspired by my writing productivity during the month of January and that I will thus keep this up for the rest of the semester.
How about you? What will it take for you to get your email and social media habits under control?