Recommended Ritual: Twice-a-Day Email

Computer and mouse

Email is disastrously convenient: Sending one is as easy as it gets, so we all end up receiving plenty more than we probably should. Inboxes can be clogged with hundreds of emails, and many of us develop compulsions to always be checking for new notes and constantly acting on what we find in our address. If you checked your snail mail as often as most people check their email, you would probably creep out the letter carrier.

But you don’t technically have to worry about creeping anyone out with your frequent email-checking, so is there a problem with it? Well, yes, actually. When you’re constantly checking your email, you often feel obligated to respond immediately when something new comes up. Even if you don’t feel obligated to respond, you at least feel the need to read whatever got sent. Most of the time, that means you’re making your email, no matter how trivial, urgent and neglecting your important work. When email becomes an impediment to what you’ve decided is important is when its convenience becomes disastrous.

That’s why today’s recommended ritual is twice-a-day email.

Twice-a-day email is simple. You only process your email twice a day: once at the beginning of the workday and once toward the end. Some people recommend avoiding your email in the morning, but checking it at the beginning can help you determine if anything needs to be added to today’s task list before you start working. Checking at the end of the day can help you plan for tomorrow, or take any vital last-minute actions.

By processing your email, I mean actually taking the time to look at things and determining what to do with it. If someone sent you a just-so-you-know sort of email, you probably don’t need to respond to it, so read it and delete it. Respond to anything you can reply to quickly—you might want to use David Allen’s two-minute rule (only reply now if you can do it in two minutes or less). If anything needs a longer response or reading time, bundle it together with other action emails and plan a specific time to tackle all email actions.

If you only process—delete, read, and respond to—emails at the beginning and end of your day, you’ll have the entire middle portion to actually work. Sometimes that work may involve going back to your email (whether it is to take care of those action emails, get an attachment, etc.). But if you have to reenter your inbox, resist the temptation to process new emails. Just don’t do it. You already have time allotted for that at the beginning and the end of the day.

You may feel that you’re obligated to respond to emails immediately, but that only happens if you choose to build that expectation. If the person sending you emails often hears back in minutes, they’ll expect to hear back in minutes. If it typically takes a workday, they’ll expect a workday’s time before hearing from you. If you’re already mired in a minute-response expectation, let your colleagues know that you’re changing your ways. Let them know that you have a new system, so all the emails will be processed and addressed—just not in the next ten seconds.

The freedom to let an email lie when you have more important things to do can alleviate all sorts of stress and worry—not to mention it gives you more uninterrupted time to do important work. So start a new twice-a-day email ritual and see what it can do for your workflow.

How often do you check your email? Are you trying to cut back? How?

Image by Michelle Meiklejohn via

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