Scott Hanselman

Don't Check Your Email in the Morning

September 09, 2014 Comment on this post [68] Posted in Productivity
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Hanselman's Productivity TipsIn my productivity talk "How to Scale Yourself and Get More Done Than You Thought Possible" I include a challenge to the listener. It's kind of insane, but it's actually proven very useful to me when I really need to get important work done.

Don't check your email in the morning.

Insane right? I believe that checking your email in the morning is the best way to time-travel to after lunch.

Why DO we check email first thing in the morning? Well, because something crucial might have happened overnight.

There's a few things wrong with that sentence, in my opinion. Words like "something" and "might" stick out. We check our email because of fear, a sense of disconnectedness, and (in some cases) a feeling of urgency addiction.

We often go to bed with our current project or work on our minds. It's THAT project that we should probably wake up and start working on. It's that project that we kind of left unfinished when we went to bed in the first place.

We SHOULD get up and start working on our project first thing. Instead we check our email, get sucked into it, answer a few, get stressed, answer a few more, threaten to delete the whole inbox, and then it's lunch time.

When I'm not really focused, sometimes the day just slips past me. I find my feet around 5pm when the day is winding down, not at 9am when it should be winding up.

If something really really important happened it won't be in your inbox. Your phone will be blowing up. Someone will be sitting in your seat when you show up at work. They will find you.

When they DO find you, you should be working. Go to work and resist the urge to check your email. Start working immediately, head down, sprinting. There's HOURS of time before lunch to be discovered.

Here's your homework. Go to work tomorrow and don't open email until afternoon. You might be staring at first, wondering what the heck you're supposed to do. Do that project. Write that code. Work on that book. Update that blog. Do literally ANYTHING except email.

When you open email for the first time after lunch, you'll have hours of amazing work already behind you and you'll feel amazing.

Try it.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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September 09, 2014 10:26
Hey Scott,

I'll try it tomorrow :)
September 09, 2014 10:26
I disagree, especially since you have a picture of Pomodoro as a slide!

CHECKING your email should be part of your PLANNING for the day, which SHOULD happen in the morning.

RESPONDING to emails should be something that you prioritize later into the day.

If you're spending your time from morning till lunch, that's half the work day, or 4 hours work. And you're saying that we should put off half our work load until the afternoon?

The only reason that a developer would have 4 hours extra work from an email is if the spec changed or there's a major defect. I personally would like to get started on that ASAP.
September 09, 2014 10:44
With Peter on this one. Seems to me to be a naive and ill conceived idea... I myself work a shift, 7.30 to 4, if I did as suggested I'd lose my job.
September 09, 2014 11:07
Well, since I work in a different timezone I check my email in the morning. Though, actually, I don't check my email - I get notified when there's a new email.

(Sorry about the double post, wrong email in the previous one.)
September 09, 2014 11:17
I get your blog post as an IFTTT email notification so it was with a sense of irony that I started reading this post this morning.
September 09, 2014 11:22
This might work for people in larger organisations (for a small percentage of people), but for people in smaller shops and mISV's, where you are more likely to be wearing more than just a developer hat, being available by email throughout the day is a requirement, a necessity even.

I fully agree with Peter on this one. Check your email in the morning. I do, GTD style.

If you'd written this blog post about checking your RSS feeds, I'd 100% agree.
September 09, 2014 11:24
Checking email is the first thing that I'd always do when I arrive at the office. It's not about being frantic about what "might had happen last night (or yesterday)". It's about who or what needs to be attended to - if there are. BUT, I don't disagree on the notion not reading emails during morning which can be applicable to some people. I know lots of people in our industry who were buried under thousands of emails (excluding the subscriptions and other personal stuff), who are productive even though that's what they did all day. :)
September 09, 2014 11:28
I have seen a lot of these recommendations online on productivity blogs, but at my work I have to train my coworkers first.
If I do not respond to a mail within 15 seconds, they come to my desk and ask if I haven't seen the mail yet. I really hate it and try to ignore mail. about 90% of the things (even when they are at my desk) are not urgent. Perhaps take one step back and start with an auto responder like Tim Ferris suggests to notify people that you only check mail after lunch once a day.
September 09, 2014 11:33
@stephen, I got it through RSS which is in my outlook 2013. So it's similar.
September 09, 2014 11:33
When you work on European time, something important might have happened on the America side during your night. But still, it is not worth answering straight in the morning, since it is still the night on the America side!
September 09, 2014 11:34
I agree for the HomeOffice situation. But in the office, I need to see if colleagues called in sick or changed appointments. So a quick overview of the inbox is a must...
September 09, 2014 11:39
Of course every job is different. But this is a rule of thumb and something TO TRY. If it resonates, try it. If your gut says "hey, ya!" Then try it. If not, if your system works now, hey, no harm.
September 09, 2014 11:43
I check my mail at 11.30 and got to do a lot more in a day. I'm more focussed too. Reading in the morning and responding later just dont work for me. Why focus on the subject twice a day?
September 09, 2014 11:57
Useful post same rule goes with twitter and Facebook too :)
September 09, 2014 12:00
I check my email on my phone on the bus on the way to work. That way I know if "something crucial happened overnight".
September 09, 2014 12:09
The irony for me being that email is not the morning distraction, blogs and news sites are!
September 09, 2014 12:35
It's not so much the crucial stuff from overnight it's more to do with answering the queries from other people who emailed me after I packed up the previous day. If I decide not to answer my email until lunch time a bunch of other people will waste part of their morning waiting for answers from me. I then become the bottleneck.

Half an hour in the morning to answer emails that can get other people working doesn't seem much to ask. Anything that is going to take more than a few minutes to respond to gets put to one side and a phone call made at a convenient point. Most queries, though, are done and dusted in minutes and ensures that other people are not held up.

It also helps that I work directly with the CEO and CTO. People not known for waiting for replies.
September 09, 2014 12:45
Again, this all assumes that your job is not primarily email. If you check and delete email for a living, if email is your job, by all means… Check your email.
September 09, 2014 14:14
Couldn't agree with you more. There's nothing worse than sleeping on a problem and then being distracted when you're best ready to solve it.
September 09, 2014 15:00
Scott I think I agree with you.
I do a quick look at my mail in the morning (while brushing my teeth; result: I brush my teeth really good ;). Deleting as much as possible. (mostly status reports of automatic mails during the night)
Later, at work, I start answering the rest; And then it is lunch time.
Except on Monday's. That day has it's own laptop..without all of the mailboxes. And when things really importent happens, they find me.
This week I'm keeping my Outlook/GMail closed till noon.
Great tip, worth to try it out.
September 09, 2014 15:26
Great suggestion Scott. I use bookending, when you are finished for the day write down the next task or step you need to take. When you are ready to start again do that instead of checking email or messages or whatever. That is your priority. If someone else has something more important for you to do, they will find you. This is good for outside work too.
September 09, 2014 15:31
In my case, I'm early at the office, so I do check my email the first thing in the morning while people are not yet in: I can reply and I have a few hours free to work before the answers comes back.
September 09, 2014 15:40
I've tried different methods myself, and for me the productivity killer #1 was leaving outlook open all day. I have now separated my day into several 2-3 hour sprints, with 30min max phone + email breaks. So I can be productive AND reasonable accessible at the same time. works pretty well for me...
September 09, 2014 15:52
Definitely would like to try but unfortunately I work in a company with a culture of "drop everything and work on my low-priority issue because it's currently what I happen to be thinking about" so if I didn't check AND respond to emails I would be getting phone calls about "did you read my email"

It all depends on your work environment.
September 09, 2014 16:36
Email=time suck...
Ditto Twitter
Ditto Facebook
Ditto 99% of the "news"

I'm 60 years old, developing software since 1978. I guarantee you that it can wait.

All of it.
September 09, 2014 16:48
I think that whether this is important is dependent on how much email you tend to get. I sometimes feel like I live in a different email universe than a lot of people I follow online. For example, when I checked my work email this morning, there were a grand total of three unread emails in my inbox, one of which looks to be a piece of spam that got through. The other two didn't require a response.

Maybe I'm an outlier, but I could never imagine getting enough email that it would take me half a day to work through. I think your job, with its focus on community and messaging, probably involves a lot more communication with a lot more people than most non-manager professional developers have to do.

Also, Microsoft is sort of infamous for burying employees in email. ;-)
September 09, 2014 18:14
Wow! I think I'll try that out.
September 09, 2014 18:17
Couldn't disagree more with your article. People expect things to happen via email. Email is communication, the same as speaking to someone in person or on the phone. If you are not responsive, it makes you look unprofessional and unproductive. "Hey, did you get that email where we needed your input and said it was urgent?" responded to by "No, I'm waiting until after lunch before I look at it" is not going to sit well with anyone.

You should check your email in the morning, prioritize your day, and then work through the important stuff. If your email inbox stresses you out, I have a feeling that's due to some other personality trait and has nothing to do with the form of communication. Sorry, I don't mean to be so blunt, but your earlier comment of "email is your job" just doesn't sit right with me. Just because you read email in the morning doesn't mean that your job is Email Reader.
September 09, 2014 18:49

I've seen you post on this before, as well as email organization (e.g., was the email sent directly or CC), and I'm curious: how many emails (on average) do you receive daily?
September 09, 2014 19:28
Where I work they don't send emails, they book 2 hour meetings with half the department in it. I'll try refusing every meeting before lunch and see how it goes.
September 09, 2014 19:43

I think you just proved Scott's point. Email apparently "is your job" if all communication and work is managed through email. It all depends on where you work. If the bulk of business (communication, descisions, requests) is done through email - then email is your job. That doesn't mean you have a menial "email reader" post...but that your job revolves around email. Unfortunately I think most business works that way - so for most of us email is our job and this technique probably won't work. So on that point - I agree with you.
September 09, 2014 20:42
Matt Wuertz - I'd say about 200-250 at work, about 100 at home (50 are mailers, the rest unsolicited questions)
September 09, 2014 21:00

No, email is merely a tool in the job. Other communications tools are also part of it. Lync, SharePoint, etc all play into it too. My job is to support business systems. Sure, it involves a lot of communication.

Glad we agree that this technique won't work for most people.

I feel Scott has a bit of a celebrity position and has spread himself thin, and his desire to help everyone conflicts with the time he has to accomplish other tasks. So I don't think email is the issue, I think the issue is total communication overload. Perhaps hiring an assistant to filter through your communications, or encouraging other knowledgeable MS employees to be readily accessible is the solution. Just my $.02 on how it appears from the outside.
September 09, 2014 21:04
This is related to something I am not fond of with agile-style daily scrums, and you're supposed to discuss what you plan on working on for the day. So instead of coming in and getting to work, you come in and spend an hour preparing for the stand-up, and then suddenly it's 1pm.
September 09, 2014 22:23
I don't know if this scenario has been mentioned in any of the previous comments, as there are too many to read them all, so I'm sorry if I am being repetitious with what I am about to say.

All to often, if I don't check email in the morning, there has been a change to some meeting, either adding or subtracting from THAT MORNING, that if I don't check email when I first get in, I will go to a cancelled meeting or miss an added one... It is not sense of disconnectedness or urgency addiction. In the environments that I have been in, this happens far too often that not checking email early in the morning would be problematic.

It would be nice if something like Scott's recommendation worked though... ;)
September 10, 2014 1:11
Personally waiting till lunch is hard to do for many reasons other comments have raised. I've recently adopted something similiar, with a slight twist. I don't check emails until I've reviewed my last known to-do. Each night I put together a to-do list. In the morning I validate this list, then and only then I check my email and see if there's anything that justifies changing my to-do. I've had to change my to-do a handful times. Mostly I ended up just throwing things into my backlog of items.
September 10, 2014 4:27
Doing this actually works for me, considering that I plan tomorrow's work at the end of the day today and do not re-evaluate until at least lunchtime tomorrow. I do however open my calendar, but purposely not my email, first thing in the morning in case any meeting information has changed.

For those saying that you could not do this first thing in the AM, maybe try it in the afternoon, from lunchtime onward. Maybe that is your peak efficiency time anyway.
September 10, 2014 6:05
Basically, it looks good on paper. But as has been stated several times, it will not work if you work in a shop where you wear many hats. Developer. Tech support. Customer support. DBA. Therapist. You name it. I've done it. Knowing what has happened overnight and what fires need to be put out is critical. Otherwise, an unhappy boss is at your desk asking if you answered that email from the customer that can't print payroll checks. Not a good thing.
September 10, 2014 13:47
That's a good advice. Will try it tomorrow.
September 10, 2014 14:04
Whilst I do feel that there is a certain amount of personal preference involved in when you check your email, the fact remains that you have to, at some point, turn your back on it and do some actual work (That isn't a response to somebody's demand that you service THEIR needs right there and then)

Tricky balancing act, in this modern 'Always-on' world that we inhabit (and are partly responsible for creating)
September 10, 2014 17:03
Simply terrible advice.
September 10, 2014 18:01
Scott, I'd say this would work great if you work at Microsoft! Too many people sending too many emails. There seems to be a mentality that, "I'd better cc the world" on just about any email sent. Former softie myself who has been guilty of that as well.
September 10, 2014 21:23
Mike Ellis - Then don't take it. ;) Many, many people have found this a useful tool.
September 10, 2014 21:32

On a side note. I see so many people who consider email a instant form of communication. Sat there with their email on the second monitor. At most I check my email 3-4 times a day. Any more than that and it becomes too much of a distraction. If you need me before then ring me or message me.

But this is just a personal preference
September 10, 2014 21:36

Thank you for your addition to the discourse. Very helpful advice.
September 10, 2014 21:45
I'm surprised at the backlash that is coming from this. I think this is great advice. Personally I would in a position where much of our communication happens via e-mail, and there is sometimes an expectation that e-mail communication is synchronous. However I choose to treat my e-mail as async communication, and my entire team knows that is a conversation needs to happen synchronously then it needs to be done face to face, or on the telephone.

It probably does mean more walk-ins and pick up meetings, but it also allows me to avoid the "death by 1000 papercuts" that I suffer on the mornings when I focus on e-mail in the morning. (I'll be honest, I do start probably 3 out of 5 days by glancing at my e-mail in the morning. I don't spend more than 5 minutes on it. Same with Twitter & HipChat.

Email is just as addictive as Facebook. But it is justified because it is for work.
September 10, 2014 21:46
This "tool" could only appear useful to the selfish and short-sighted.

What if one of the emails you didn't check had significant impact on the task(s) you worked on in the morning before you graced your Inbox with your attention?

What if everyone waited until after lunch to check their email? Can you imagine the negative impact that would have on productivity company-wide?

Everyone in a professional environment has multiple things they're involved with going on at one time and literally ignoring all but one of them is irresponsible and dangerous. And given my first question above, it can actually hurt your productivity.

Prioritizing obligations is simply something every employee (and adult for that matter) has to do. Take a few minutes to scan through your emails in the morning and assess if something affects or takes priority over whatever you plan to work on first. It's really that simple (and obvious).
September 10, 2014 22:07
As for not answering emails, our team has developed a nice 'cool down' period where apparently urgent emails are put 'on hold' for a few hours unless that person calls up or emails again. Typically the problem automatically solves itself without the team getting involved.

@Brad, I can't believe it takes you/your team an hour to get ready for a few minutes of stand-up. It's typically 5 minutes at most where I work. They do communicate face to face outside of the standup, right?
September 10, 2014 22:44
I often practice this and I can second that it really increases productivity in the AM. By lunchtime, I feel like I have gotten a lot more done!
September 10, 2014 22:57
I agree with Scott. Numerous studies have shown that we are most productive in the morning, especially with creative tasks. Many great writers and inventors in the past start early and work until a late lunch. After lunch was time or administrative tasks and non-creative tasks. If our job as programmers is to write quality code, then I think managers would understand that meetings and email is for the afternoon. I'm about 60% more effective in coding before lunch.

I often dedicate the first hour for working on fun and challenging code projects or learning something new.

I understand there might be urgent issues and timezone stuff is definitely an exception, but if people are working in the same office or timezone, an there's a chat app for urgent things, I feel like 3-4 days a week can be high productivity days with no email till 11:30 or so. It's not easy to be disciplined to do this, but the rewarding feeling of getting something dons worth it.
September 10, 2014 23:12
Sounds great, but the people who approve/sign-off on my invoices would never approve.
September 10, 2014 23:58
Email is an asynchronous form of communication. The fact that you sent me an e-mail tells me you either couldn't get a hold of me directly or didn't need to.

Urgent issues demand phone calls, face to face conversations or sometimes IMs, not e-mail.

I think Scott's advice is useful to many developers as a way to further reduce distractions and increase productivity. If your job is essentially e-mail, well this probably won't work. Hopefully you spend more time coding than you do in e-mails.

September 11, 2014 0:21
I think Scott is dead on with this one. I understand that many folks feel threatened by the idea of holding off on checking your email until later in the day so keep in mind this advice only applies to certain roles. Sometimes the role isn't what matters but rather company policy or culture.

For me personally, where I work I get a ton of SPAM emails all the time. I get caught up in the habit of checking email each morning and reading through everything just to ensure I haven't missed anything. Granted, this never takes 4 hours of my time but certainly cuts into my productivity.

Scott's right. If it's important enough someone will find you. However, don't let your email sit for days without being looked at because I knew someone who got fired over that very thing. You must be attentive but not overly attentive to the point where your productivity goes by the wayside.

There are a ton of tools out there which will filter your email in such a way that makes it less distracting and prioritizes your messages for you. However, the best tip I can give would be to turn your email notifications off! This will help you be more productive by not interrupting your workflow every time a new email comes to your inbox, most of the time which just waste your time, sadly.
September 11, 2014 0:47
I think if your email content is equivalent to Twitter, Facebook, etc., as some have suggested, then go ahead and wait until noon to check it. On the other hand, if you are supporting critical systems for your organization you would basically be raising your hand and saying "please fire me". Even if you are a "pure developer" without support issues, I would hate to waste four hours and then find out a spec was changed at 8:00am. Like most advice, your application of it depends on your circumstances. I have used a lot of the advice Scott has had in various blogs but as Scott even suggests I don't just blindly do it. I take the time to see how it applies to me and even then I adjust it as I go along.
September 11, 2014 3:58
I love this advice as it's coming in just the right moment where my team and I are putting the value of email into perspective. We're shifting away from email as a todo, and quickly de-prioritizing it in favor of other communication tools like Skype and Agile Zen/Github Issue for ticket filing.

I've adopted the "Don't check email if you aren't in a position to really do anything about it." stance. Not looking at my phone when I wake up. Not checking on my commute. This has mostly been a pragmatic thing due to the fact that the email gets marked as read and often missed when I finally am in the office and ready to go.

For me (ease up Mike I said for me) I find when I get in is a good time and then again in the late afternoon (2:30-3:00 ish). This sets my pace for the first half of the day and then a check in just in case leaving me with a few solid hours of heads down time. I do however use messaging tools on my team for the 'urgent' stuff.

September 11, 2014 5:47
What if the project you started to work on in the morning cancelled and you didn't know because you didn't read your mail😊😊 Whole 4 hours gone.
September 11, 2014 10:12
This doesn't apply to me, being a one man SMB... But if you can do it, I'm sure it works!

I've had several really productive mornings.. Then suddenly realised... I've forgotten to open outlook And my phone had been on silent, so no email notifications OR phone calls!
Down side... Stressed out clients who cant get hold of me when their world has ended... Teehee.

Like Scott says, if you think you CAN do this AND get away with it, then I'm sure it works!
September 11, 2014 14:46
I like how all the wrong people are replying to all mad to this idea. Like Scott says, if email is your job, do emails. But as a developer, its mostly crap that can wait until you've translated your headcode in to realcode and thus, hopefully and probably, make a solid leap towards completing the task at hand. Creativity needs air to breath and time to unfold, this post is not for the suits with BlackBerrys glued to both hands.

Please stop the "this is wrong for me, I should shout really hard at this guy, because I've misunderstood it all". Its okay to be insulted, just dont be insulted because you don't understand.
September 11, 2014 16:03
I work on applications support, and even though the bulk of our communications with end users is via email, the SOP is that if you do not call the support line, we do not prioritize you. We all check email on a regular basis, but respond as our individual schedules and productive work habits allow. Of course their are caveats - for instance, if one is on call after hours and an email comes in indicating that a production line is down until helped, we respond. If we are unclear about the severity, we respond _as we were contacted*_ to inquire about urgency. If user does not answer for 3 hours - well, it couldn't be too urgent.

I think the idea of checking or responding to email only at specified times has a great deal of merit. For one thing, it can be listed on a calendar to reserve the time and ensure one is able to review and respond. We also use Lync, integrated with our phones, and when we really must concentrate we set ourselves to DND (do not disturb) to let everyone know a)we aren't responding emails, b)we aren't taking calls, c)we may not answer your IM. I like to use the status bar to indicate best method of contact, especially if I am working remotely.

A related tip would be to add your email policy to your signature. "Email requests will be responded to within 24 hours. Please call (IM) for urgent or schedule impacting issues."

Often if it is urgent, colleagues IM to see whether we are available, then call to discuss.

Myself, I work an odd swing shift schedule, so everyone else's workday is half over when mine begins. I always check email just before driving to work so I know what to expect when I arrive, but then work on planned tasks when I get there. I only check email nights and weekends if on call, and even then at my convenience.

*the number of people who email for help but expect to receive a call because they are AFK, without explicitly stating so - !Oy! -
September 13, 2014 20:20
Maybe you should just check your "urgent" inbox folder.
September 15, 2014 2:19
O often find myself having efficiency and ease at work only to find out that I forgot to start the email client (I don't have it automatically started).
September 15, 2014 10:41
Scott - I use this from time to time. It works great but sometimes I'm drawn into it.

Also; I have the highest respect for you and that you keep sharing your experiences and the things that works for you. Even though you get loads of really bad comments back. So sorry for that.

Please remember that we are many that like what you are sharing and please continue.

As you said to someone above; it's just advices, not rules.

Thank you Scott, keep going!
September 18, 2014 9:46
The idea is great, I love it, but like many things can't work in isolation. If all the kids in class turn their desks backwards before teacher returns, a friendly prank results and everyone has a good yuk yuk. If only you do it, you get detention.

The heart of the idea is that all those high priority OMG email items are in reality not a priority (or at least not a sev 0, drop everything priority). I believe this is true, but Colbert's truthiness doctrine dictates that if a majority believe something then it is better than true it's truthy. The truthiness is I'd be crucified if I didn't check my email, or at least get detention.
September 18, 2014 14:27
Can be experimented ?. But w we should not check email every minute. That's what most of the developers do , they keep checking every minutes and their agenda changes every hour thus loosing focus.
September 24, 2014 15:53
Lots of disagreement on this one. I'm kind of in the middle. If I didn't check email until noon, my clients would be raging. However, I'm a big fan working on my most pressing issue first thing in the morning à la Gary Keller's 'The One Thing'. For me, this means starting my morning at 5am everyday. I do my most important work first, then get on with my daily tasks, including checking email. Great post Scott!
September 28, 2014 23:07
Great post. I've wrote about the "Unread Mail disease" in the past here.
October 02, 2014 16:03
Hey Scott,

just tried it a couple of days but it didn't worked out for me, curious if you're still on this Mantra

November 10, 2014 10:47
Yes, I agree to this.

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.