Scott Hanselman

"Simply terrible advice" - If the shoe pinches, don't wear it.

September 10, '14 Comments [41] Posted in Productivity
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There's few things that get me too riled up when it comes to advice. I love hearing about other people's lives and their life systems. From the mundane and familiar, like how they pack their kids lunches, how they manage their finances, or how they manage their email.

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. - Oscar Wilde

We are an amalgamation of all the advice we've ever been given. The first 18 years of my life I was trapped in my parents' house and subjected to their "advice." Most of which turned out to be spot on. I am currently forcing my children to take my advice until their brains full form (which I suspect will happen in about 25 years).

A word to the wise ain't necessary - it's the stupid ones that need the advice. - Bill Cosby

I did a post yesterday called "Don't Check Your Email in the Morning." It's not that controversial, I think. However, it's been characterized as "The singular most life-changing productivity tip I've received" as well as "Simply terrible advice."

Come on. This is simply an issue of self-reflection. Look at your personal habits, your routine, and how you go about your day. Do you go about your workday on auto-pilot, or with a sense of intentionality?

Don't check email in the morning is a rule of thumb. The essential point is "Don't get caught up in the minutiae of unimportant morning email checking if you're unknowingly using email checking as an way to procrastinate."

Maybe checking email every 5 min works for you. Perhaps that morning quick email sweet is essential to your business. Hey, more power to you. You check email 365 days a year. I wonder what would happen if you didn't check it in the morning for a day? Might be useful advice. Totally might not. You'll never know unless you try.

I like trying on shoes. But if the shoe pinches, I don't wear it.

Consider not checking your email in the morning, if you think it might help you. Enjoy the comments.

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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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Wednesday, 10 September 2014 18:59:15 UTC
To me, it boils down to "If you don't have anything nice to say, then do say anything at all." Just my two cents.

I think I could benefit greatly from your advice since I tend to be OCD with my email. "Hmm, I don't have email" - two seconds later - "Maybe I have some now! Lemme check...nope no email". Rinse and repeat.
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:13:13 UTC
"Don't get caught up in the minutiae of unimportant morning email checking if you're unknowingly using email checking as an way to procrastinate." is a far cry from "Don't check email in the morning."

I'll grant that the second one is a lot pithier and makes a better title, but without any kind of qualifying clause (And none was presented in yesterday's post), I would agree that it's crap advice. Had you put your "essential point" from today's article in yesterday's post, I think there would be a lot less controversy.

The stock "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" quote is probably apt here.

Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:19:11 UTC
As a developer, emails should not disturb my work. I have tasks set by a project manager/owner that I need to fullfill. I get done a lot faster without interruptions. If it's important I will get a call or a message. Reading emails all the time has the same negative impact as attending too many meetings.

I usually do check my emails in the morning and right after lunch. Which are optimal because it's two times a day where I am not yet focused. The important thing for me is that it shouldn't break my concentration.

We all like staying effective, reducing the times a day you check your email is one of them!

@PeterDRasmussen
Peter Rasmussen
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:21:04 UTC
Exactly what I was thinking after reading many of the comments on your post yesterday. :-)
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:24:58 UTC
I guess I should mention that I do agree with the fundamental message, I just don't think that as many of us are in positions to take a hardline stance on email as Scott does.

If any reader naively follows Scott's advice without considering whether they can actually get away with it in their job, it's very possible that they could land themselves in hot water. At the end of the day, it would be their own fault, but if Scott doesn't mention that there are situations where his advice might not be a great idea, I don't think it's out of line for the comments to do so.
Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:27:36 UTC
"A word to the wise ain't necessary - it's the stupid ones that need the advice."

Yeah, but only the wise will heed it. Fools will mock it, ignore it, suffer for it and then do it again.
PRMan
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:29:39 UTC
Wow, I saw the tweet but did not expect a whole blog post in response to one comment. People will be more careful commenting on your posts now. :)
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:40:07 UTC
Upon further reflection I have decided to not check email until my local McDonald's stops serving breakfast each day. That seems to be the most logical step to take.
Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:41:00 UTC
I suspect many of those those calling it "simply terrible" are misunderstanding a more fundamental context.

If you are a developer that needs to focus on specific projects then it is a great technique to help with focusing. If you are more of a manager of any stripe (project, program, product, team), your job is more coordination and less deep focus and therefore Outlook is more important than Visual Studio.

Of course, as with everything, this has been said better before

Tito Villalobos
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:45:51 UTC
I hope it's just unfortunate coincidence that another "Eric" made that third post, but I guess I'll link an e-mail to prevent further confusion. I'm "polite discourse" Eric, not "sarcastic McDonald's comment" Eric. =)
Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:51:14 UTC
Seems like "your mileage may vary" is implicit in any blog post. But seriously, the world is an angry and polarized place where "respectfully disagree" never happens. Frequently it's not sufficient to see it differently but to be outraged that you might suggest a concept/viewpoint/phone choice(!) that differs from my own.

Surely somewhere the comments section of internet forums is feeding hundreds of Psychiatry studies.
TimB
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:56:44 UTC
For me, it's not to check my RSS feed first... Email I take care of as it comes in, if possible.
Will
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 19:59:02 UTC
Eric's (the polite discourse version) implication that this is not the medium for my joke is probably right. For that I apologize. I will heretofore refrain from abusing him or Mr. Hanselman's forum. I did think it was a little bit funny though.

Having said that, in the future I think we should all be 'Eric', any version will do.
(Sardonic) Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 20:04:01 UTC
"Are you all called Eric?"
"There's nothing so odd about that! Kemal Ataturk had an entire menagerie named Abdul!"
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnq96W9jtuw)
Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 20:31:37 UTC
Well played! Now I've figured out how to ignore my email... Hmm my phone is ringing. Why is my boss calling?
(Sardonic) Eric
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 20:44:33 UTC
And in further irony for me, this time I'm doing a late night release and checked my email to see this post. Power to the hanselman :)
Stephen
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 20:51:10 UTC
Most good walking boots will pinch at first. Then you wear them in. Likewise habits.

(Yes I know that is close to being too literal).

Wednesday, 10 September 2014 20:59:36 UTC
Hey, what's wrong with procrastination?


I just stopped what I was doing to read this blog article, and now I find myself commenting.... and I'm still not sure how this helped me get my work done. :-)
Steve
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 21:07:33 UTC
I love all my Erics equally.
Scott Hanselman
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 22:25:19 UTC
I can't understand some comments with that big dosis of criticism. Receiving over 200 hdrd mails in a day is insane, and I can't even imagine how to handle that. And of course I can see why when facing that mail-tsunami one tries to think about a way to survive.

I think this advice suits for this particular situation and maybe others. I interprete it as a "hey, try to place an afternoon time window to attend mail in a row ". If the kind of work you have lets you do this, I am sure this is a good practice and improves productivity for many reasons. I think this is also about discipline and self control. Again, if your job gives you a chance to try it.

That being said, my job doesn't let my apply this. Wish it did!!
Pablo
Thursday, 11 September 2014 04:30:18 UTC
Working for 3 oral surgeons (I'm the implant coordinator), I always check my email first and many times I don't get started on anything I had planned due to the morning emails. Tomorrow I will try your method and see if it makes me more productive.
Thursday, 11 September 2014 05:36:59 UTC
Hi Scott, Love reading your articles. I am coder as well as have been helping my dad out in his shoe shop for over 10 years. I completely agree with your advice "I like trying on shoes. But if the shoe pinches, I don't wear it.". But my dad tends to say the shoe will fit perfectly after few days of wearing it to customers, just to sell the shoe :).
Hsu Shen On
Thursday, 11 September 2014 06:20:39 UTC
I always read my news feeds before reading my email. Procrastinating a bit with a cup of coffee is my preferred way of starting the day. Also, when I am faced with a particularly hard problem and need to find an excuse to just think uninterrupted for an hour or two, I just organize a mundane meeting to keep the project leaders busy talking to each other.

That said, I am responding now because I am just enjoying how riled up other people get over some bit of productivity advice. My own best advice on being productive is: "Think before you act." That saves you from doing the same thing over and over again until you get it right by accident. And to think, you need to procrastinate a bit too!
Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:29:45 UTC
you often display your "works on my computer" certification when discussing relatively cutting edge or potentially risky code or coding practices. without a similar "works for my life" disclaimer i feel as though you're leading your readers astray.

i don't understand how you expected fully grown adults who are followers of your blog and therefore relatively intelligent technical individuals to be able to overcome these obstacles without even so much as a hint of a disclaimer.

before you respond i just want you to think about all the people who read your advice and then applied it to their lives even though they knew it wouldn't work. now they've got over 200 unread mails and their customers hate them and their boss is going to fire them. its all your fault. i mean what if they don't even have email. how are they supposed to not check it if they don't even have it? its the same thing with all those diabetes posts you're always on about. have you ever considered not everyone has diabetes? i had purchased 3 pumps and jabbed myself over 17 times before my doctor told me i was doing myself serious harm and that the things you were writing about had no actual relevance to me.

i can't believe you refuse to be held accountable for posting words on the internet that are not directly applicable to every single person who reads them. how could you and how dare you. how dare you sir!
hilton smith
Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:56:41 UTC
"Don't get caught up in the minutiae of unimportant morning email checking if you're unknowingly using email checking as an way to procrastinate."

Bingo. For me, checking email isn't an issue - I usually only get 2-3 a week (seriously). But I found this key thought was pretty well obvious in your post: spend some time focused on work first thing before you let in distractions.

For me those distractions/"procrastination assistants" aren't email; they're my blog reader, Stack Overflow, and Twitter. But the same principle applies.
Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:39:03 UTC
Hi Scott, nice article!

I totally agree that any advice can prove useful or disastrous depending on the receiver and the context.
However, I wanted to expand your thought with the shoes - as I am also fond of trying of new shoes and don't stick with those which pinch. The thing I want to suggest is that the more shoes I have tried, and the more shoes have been pinching me, the more I think I understand people who choose different shoes than me, and that the more I am willing to accept other points of view.
Pavel Janečka
Thursday, 11 September 2014 14:27:59 UTC
I think this is pretty sound advice and it's something I've been practicing for months now. It's really helped me limit my procrastination and keep my sanity.

I first discovered this while watching the Productivity for Programmers video on Pluralsight and I have tweaked it to work for me. And I think that's the point - don't take the advice at face value, take it, try it, and tweak it to fit your schedule and your needs. What works for someone else probably won't work for you.
Thursday, 11 September 2014 14:29:25 UTC
Good point Scott. The title of your article is misleading, though. It sounds like your saying that "If the shoe pinches, don't wear it" is terrible advice. FWIW.
Isaac
Thursday, 11 September 2014 15:59:58 UTC
Just to show our love/hate relationship with email. Truly, it's a killer app.
John Kings
Thursday, 11 September 2014 16:13:38 UTC
For programmers, neither email nor meetings are "real work." What is real work is working code that solves customer problems. Email and meetings should only exist to serve that essential point.

To managers, business analysts, and numerous other roles, whose job is to work with people (not code) to figure out what needs to be done and when it might be completed, email and meetings are work.

It may be hard for the latter to see the former. Furthermore, people for whom email is real work may have an incentive for those whom email is not real work, to see it as real work, because they want quick responses to their emails so that they can send the next one.

If you are not courageous and/or empowered enough to implement Scott's original suggestion, don't.
Steve
Thursday, 11 September 2014 18:06:09 UTC
This is really about self-discipline and how you might be able to make yourself more productive. I'm going to agree and disagree with one of the Erics:
If any reader naively follows Scott's advice without considering whether they can actually get away with it in their job, it's very possible that they could land themselves in hot water. At the end of the day, it would be their own fault, but if Scott doesn't mention that there are situations where his advice might not be a great idea, I don't think it's out of line for the comments to do so.
I agree with the first part, you shouldn't naively follow Scott's (or anyone's) advice without considering....
I don't think Scott (or anyone) should need to have a disclaimer on advice. If you blindly follow blog posts as gospel if there's no disclaimer, then I will start posting blog entries on how you should send me 25% of your monthly earnings (after taxes, of course, I'm not greedy.)

I'm in a position where I do need to review emails in the morning, just to see if there are any outages within the organization that I need to be aware of. I have enough rules in place to move the low priority items to other folders so at most I have maybe 20 emails to glance at.
However, the things that kill my productivity are:

  • Reading emails as they arrive
    I've been trying to discipline myself to leave the email messages until I'm ready to deal with them. Maybe I should just turn off the email toast messages in outlook! If you have something that requires my response in the next 30 minutes, you probably should pick up the phone.
  • Receiving IMs
    IM's are much more difficult - I probably get 10-20 a day. Many of these are not urgent. I'm trying to go DND more often (Lync) and I've had to block a few abusers that just seem to camp on IM. Frankly, in my organization, IMs have nearly replaced email. Heck, sometimes they span 10+ minutes. Try getting something done when that happens.

Nothing's worse than a conversation like this:
Sally: yt?
Me: Yes, in the middle of three things, but what's up?
Sally: I have a question about something
Sally (after 60 seconds of 'typing'): Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Mauris tempus porta est eu luctus. Sed dictum sapien ligula, ac ultrices erat ultricies a. Aenean tristique, turpis non ullamcorper semper, nisi turpis commodo lectus, vitae congue lorem quam vitae mauris. Nunc consectetur leo est, vitae venenatis orci elementum ut. Ut condimentum auctor tortor, vel auctor quam varius at. Etiam semper risus lorem, id molestie nibh mattis at. Aliquam euismod tellus eget ligula interdum, non mollis nisi lobortis. Sed dictum et ante nec interdum. Donec luctus mi a feugiat tristique. Integer porttitor enim ex. Mauris interdum risus lobortis, lacinia elit non, egestas enim. Nunc volutpat nisl lobortis enim ornare, et congue sem rutrum. Suspendisse a leo sed velit gravida ultricies ut egestas sapien. Donec eu quam vel erat egestas pharetra.
Me: Some brief thoughtful response (which might well be "call me to discuss")
Sally (3 minutes later): ok, thanks!


Perhaps an article on IM etiquette is in need, so I can pass it on to my co-workers.

Rick
Thursday, 11 September 2014 18:57:33 UTC
This is whole thing is ridiculous. Scott is giving advice to people based on his own experience. The point of any advice is to think about it, mull it over in your brain, and decide if its advice you can implement in your own life and scenario.

Scott never intended to propose that the world's work communication network to be shut down from 6am - 1pm daily. His point was to simply work on your main project during the morning and save checking emails till the afternoon. Scott is simply sharing his experiences with us his advice based on those experiences. Obviously you got to use your own common sense to determine if this is something you can actually do. Not all advice can be applied to every person in every scenario 100% of the time. They say you should wait 20 minutes to swim after eating. Its good advice, but if your wife is drowning in your pool, that advice doesn't work and you should jump in and save her, even if you are holding a fistful of chicken wings.
Thursday, 11 September 2014 19:16:57 UTC
I don't think Scott (or anyone) should need to have a disclaimer on advice. If you blindly follow blog posts as gospel if there's no disclaimer, then I will start posting blog entries on how you should send me 25% of your monthly earnings (after taxes, of course, I'm not greedy.)


I'd never say that anyone needs a disclaimer - That would be insulting to the vast majority of readers, especially on a technical blog.

I'm just saying that when a post implies that something is all-upside, one can't really be surprised if a good chunk of the comments are about the potential downside.
Eric
Friday, 12 September 2014 08:02:44 UTC
Seems to me that everyone hating on the advice has missed the opening paragraph (empahsis mine)

but it's actually proven very useful to me when I really need to get important work done


If "getting important work done" for you involves reading and dealing with email, then obviously the advice that follows is irrelevant....however if your primary source of tasks to do is not your inbox, then the advice is salient and probably worth a try.

Stephen
Friday, 12 September 2014 11:22:58 UTC
Over the past 6 months, when on project work I have been only checking emails 3 times a day by closing outlook, this has reduced interuptions dramatically.
I have also been forwarding support requests sent to me directly to support (cc-ing the sender), after a suitable delay. If I keep getting support requests from the same person I reply (after a ever longer delay) asking them to contact support directly to ensure they get a prompt response.
Fizzelen
Friday, 12 September 2014 23:46:39 UTC
Since I commented on the original "Don't check your email in the morning" post, I will add two observations to this post.

"Simply terrible advice"? Lighten up, Francis... The tone is similar to some of the debate about Windows 8, which I viewed as a "some pluses, but some reparable implementation flaws" proposition, but that is not everyone's opinion either. Just mine. Just like your post was.

To me, the issue really is that unfortunately the comment clearly got everyone's attention to this degree as it almost always does.

THAT is a problem.
Brian Schnackel
Monday, 15 September 2014 12:59:37 UTC
I actually started doing this a while back except I took it one step further. Not only do I not check my email in the morning, I actually only check it once or at most twice a day.

Now I spend far less time reactively jumping in and out of Outlook *just in case something's happened*. Let me save you the trouble - it hasn't. Get on with what you should be doing!

Like reading Scotts blog
Monday, 15 September 2014 23:46:39 UTC
I actually stopped looking at emails after 5pm and I sleep better now. Normally late emails are just intended to piss me off and make my life hell.
Dot Net Dude
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 15:57:30 UTC
I think the underlying point that Scott is trying to make is, don't be reactive to your environment.

Email, while it fosters communication, can be a very reactive tool if you let it manage your time instead of you managing your email.

Obvious some individuals need email information to be productive, so this is not something that may not be something that black and white fit into your role. However, you should still manage your email, instead of it managing you. If you find yourself in a constant reactive situation with clients, customers or production information then you have to understand that the cost of being reactive is being productive. I'm not saying that you cant be productive, you just cant be as productive.

Scott made a good point that can also be transferred to phone calls, meetings and water cooler visits.
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 20:46:25 UTC
Scott,

Your advice was sound on e-mail in the previous post.

The internet is a breeding ground for polarized responses over trivial things. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that people don't read online materials as they would a book or paper.

They skim and jump around (F pattern). So its a medium where its easy for people to jump to the wrong conclusion.

There are also people that have strong dominant personalities that are compelled to control everything and everyone while excluding oneself. A behavior included with this personality type is leaving commanding irrational comments.

Sometimes its just best to look at that is a backwards compliment that you made them care enough to respond.

A word to the wise might not be necessary, but the wise are the ones smart enough to just sick back and listen.

In my experience, office culture is addicted to work that isn't a high priority, poor executed meetings, and abusing e-mail lists. So it wouldn't surprise me if someone lashed out against your previous advice because of what certain cultures dictate as critical importance even when it is not.

:: shrugs ::


Tuesday, 16 September 2014 20:52:32 UTC
@Scott,

Your advice was sound on e-mail in the previous post.

The internet is a breeding ground for polarized responses over trivial things. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that people don't read online materials as they would a book or paper.

They skim and jump around (F pattern). Websites are a medium where it is easy for people to jump to the wrong conclusion.

There are also people that have strong dominant personalities that are compelled to control everything and everyone while excluding oneself. A behavior included with this personality type is leaving commanding irrational comments.

Sometimes its just best to view such responses as a backwards compliment that you made them care enough to respond.

A word to the wise might not be necessary, but the wise are the ones smart enough to just sit back and listen.

In my experience, office culture is addicted to work that isn't a high priority, poor executed meetings, and abusing e-mail lists. So it wouldn't surprise me if someone lashed out against your previous advice because of what certain cultures dictate as critical importance even when it is not.
:: shrugs ::

p.s sorry for the double comment with the corrections.
Comments are closed.

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