Is Email Killing Your Productivity?

It’s 10:13 AM and you haven’t checked your email in at least 3 minutes. You’re already anxious that you might have missed something important. So you open your email client back up and frantically hit the send/receive button.


Does this sound like you? It sure sounds like me a few months back. I constantly checked my email every minute I was awake looking for that super important message. It became a habit that was very difficult to break.

Luckily, I decided to cut back on my email usage. Why? Because it’s not a good thing to spend your time doing.  Here’s a few good reasons to cut back on your email usage:

It’s Habit Forming

The worst thing about checking your email is that it is habit forming. You start to do it more and more without even realizing it. Before you know it, you are checking it in your sleep. Don’t believe me? Check out this article that I just read over at Boing Boing. It talks about a woman that sent out some emails while she was sleepwalking. She didn’t even remember doing it. I have a feeling she uses a lot of email when she is awake (or it was the meds).

It’s Not That Important

It’s time to face the facts that your email isn’t that important. Sure, you might be a CEO or manager of a department but that still doesn’t change anything. Don’t get me wrong, there are some certain circumstances where you might need to check your email all the time (technical support perhaps?). But that doesn’t apply to everyone.

If someone had a message that had to get to you, they would call you or find a different means of communication. You should be spending your time getting work DONE, not writing back and forth to people talking about the work you are GOING to do.

It Kills Your Productivity

Worst of all, checking your email reduces your productivity. It becomes a constant distraction that keeps you from doing the things you should be doing. Want some proof? Here is a quick summary from a study that was done a few years ago:

“In a study last year, Dr Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University, England, found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email ( So people who check their email every five minutes waste 81/2hours a week figuring out what they were doing moments before.”

You can check out the rest of the article here. It’s worth a read, especially if you are sitting around waiting for your weekend to start.

So What Do You Do?

That’s the real question. Tim Ferriss mentioned the idea of using an autoresponder which seems like it could work. However, it doesn’t work that well if you have people that email you a few times everyday.

So instead, I have been trying to stick to a schedule where I check my email every hour. I figure 10 times a day is far better than the 10 times an hour I used to do. Now if I could just cut it back to once very 3 hours. That’s going to be tough…

Do you check your email a lot? Have any suggestions to kick the habit?

Photo Credit: stuartpilbrow

9 thoughts on “Is Email Killing Your Productivity?

  1. Adam Pieniazek

    Good points all around Justin. I’ve had a bit of this email checking bug too, though lately I’m improving. A few things that helped me out is clearing out my mailbox so there aren’t hundreds of emails just sitting there (thus giving you the feeling that there’s work left to do with your e-mail), setting up filters to file away e-mails I don’t need to see, and putting my iPhone in another room so I don’t hear it announcing each new mail message.

    Still, I think your advice that our emails are simply not that important is the best advice in this case. I think a three check system works best, check e-mails in the morning, sometime in the afternoon and once again before you sign out for the day. Now if only I could stick to that system!

    1. Justin Post author

      Yeah I know how the iPhone is. I constantly here that sound when a new message comes in. That are it vibrates loud enough to hear from anywhere in my apartment.

      The three check system is definitely the best solution. But it’s going to take some work. Hopefully I can get myself on that schedule at some point.

  2. jTerrell

    I tried the Tim Ferriss method at my 9-5 before I left it and totally works. I got some push back from co-workers because they’d have to wait to get an answer to their email rather than the norm where I would respond within minutes…but overtime they got used to it and started adapting the method.

    Now that I’m on my own…I find myself checking it more often…multiple times per hour–mostly vendors (my print house, album design group, etc).

  3. Erica

    Last year, I got into the habit of checking my email way too often. When I eventually realized how time consuming it was I decided to not login more than twice a day – in the morning and just before I finished working for the day. That lasted about a week, since then I’ve limited checking my email to a couple times a day. But I totally agree with Adam, three times daily would be optimal.

  4. Jen

    Once I win the lottery I hope to have someone to check my emails for me whilst I’m being digitally nomadic…hehe…failing that I will probably continue to check my emails every 10mins or so – people hopefully think I’m just uber efficient and it’s not that email rules my life or that I have nothing better to do than wait for that ever-so important email that never arrives! (I’m unsure which it is!)x

  5. John Hunter

    I think your suggestions are good. However, I find the often voiced idea that email hurts productivity crazy. It helps enormously in my opinion. But you can gain much of those benefits while losing less of the negatives by shaping how you use email. I think far too often people see that they get distracted by email while forgetting the huge benefits email provides overall.

  6. Dennis

    I hear you. I have a bad habit of checking email way to often.
    Texts on a mobile phone are just as bad, if I hear a beep I have to read it straight away – even whilst mid-sentence talking to someone .. bad habits.

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