One of the podcasts* I regularly listen to is HBR Ideacast and a while ago I heard an episode featuring Ron Friedman on how to structure your day to get the most done. One of the claims he makes is that you should not check your email at the beginning of your working day. I completely disagree.
It is an piece of ‘advice’ that I’ve heard a number of times already and the logic behind it is usually that you shouldn’t spend your best/most productive hours of the working day on an activity that can basically be defined as ‘solving other people’s problems’. But is that really a proper definition of incoming email? It is perhaps if you look at it from the traditional individualist American business school perspective whereby everthing-is-fine-if-I-reach-my-personal-targets-and-will-therefore-get-my-bonus.
If you work in a company, however, you work together with a number of colleagues to form a team (at least that is usually the idea – admittedly, in some cases this is extremely well disguised) and a number of the incoming emails are bound to be from those colleagues. My personal experience is that quite often a number of those colleagues work with some form of to do lists, which has the side effect that some tasks are postponed until quite late and then get done at the end of the business day, resulting in emails entering your mailbox by the time you’ve left the office.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should spend loads of time on your inbox at the start of your working day, but you should at least make a quick check if there are any mails where a one minute (or less) effort from your side can mean
- a next step in some team process
- can give another team member the input (s)he needs to continue participating in one of the team projects
- getting an answer you were waiting for and thereby allow you to contribute to making things move
- you get aware of some branche-specific news fact that was not in the regular media you were exposed to during breakfast, but that can be quite important for the work you need to do during the rest of the day
And if you’re not working in a company, but are self-employed… then a number of the incoming mails are bound to be from (potential) customers. Might also be a good idea not to wait too long to process those.
* If you spend a lot of time in the car, you should really consider listening to podcasts. Since I started doing this, I no longer have the impression that my time in the car – being forced to focus on driving it, as the availability of the Google car will unfortunately still take some time – is wasted, even when stuck in a traffic jam. Podcasts allow you to listen to self-selected entertaining, educational or work-related content that you know to be interesting instead of being dependent on whatever happens to be on the radio.
I agree, a scan on the inbox helps map out priorities for the day and may provide some unexpected insight on a current task or project. It is nice to get that kind of info at the beginning of the day instead of part way through. One can always flag a reminder on an e-mail that may take more time to digest and/or respond for later in the day when they have set aside time for dealing with emails.
Loved your * comment though about Podcasts – awesome way to spend time in the car on an extended drive (like to Bochum 🙂 ), and it is not just for iPhone glitterati – there are some great podcast apps for Android.