When are you at your mental best?
Most of us are at our sharpest around 10 AM, yet we often spend our super-productive morning hours on email, a relatively low-value activity.
When I arrive at the office, my morning seems to go one of two ways hinging on how I approach work email.
Scenario 1: “Quick email check” devours morning
I roll in around 8:15 AM and get settled. I have big plans to spend the morning on an important project (I usually see students in the afternoon), but I open my laptop and quickly check my work email.
Messages of all kinds greet me: students asking for help and advice, colleagues advertising bagels and cream cheese in the conference room, faculty sharing concerns about struggling students, and university administration updating employees on a new policy change.
Many of these emails require a response, so I dash off a few quick replies. I then decide to answer a couple of the more involved emails, and this takes longer than I’d hoped. As I’m finishing my final reply, two new responses arrive to emails I just sent. I respond to these, too, and then I respond to the new responses my quick responses have invited. I’ve now cleared my inbox. It’s 10:30 AM.
Result: morning spent on email.
Scenario 2: Email waits its turn
I roll in around 8:15 AM and get settled. I have big plans to spend the morning on an important project (I usually see students in the afternoon), so I open my laptop but resist the urge to check my work email.
By 8:30 AM, I’m working on the important project. I spend two hours on it, and by 10:30 AM, I’ve made real progress. I now check my work email, answering a few of the most important messages. I leave the rest for the afternoon.
Result: morning spent on important project.
We’re better off using our best hours on our most important work and saving most of our email processing until later in the morning or even the afternoon.
If it feels wrong to let your work email sit, ask yourself this question: “What do I get paid for?”
You’re paid to do the difficult work that moves your organization forward an inch at a time. You’re paid for emotional labor, and you’re paid for results.
Your job is to create value, not to move information around. Don’t be afraid to make email wait its turn.