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Controlling email

Posted in Business and Tools

I make websites. I also run a paperless office. You can imagine how much of my working day is spent using a computer. Now I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of notifications: calendar and to-do list reminders, text messages, phone calls, emails…

The calendar/to-do reminders are ok – I set them up myself, after all. Texts are generally from my wife, who knows I might not be able to get back to her immediately if I’m at work. Phone calls are less frequent. But emails are an issue.

How much of an issue?

A while back, Paul Boag wrote an article where he described email as a beast that needs to be tamed. More recently he has revisited the problem on his own blog:

“People have their email clients [checking] for email every 5 minutes. This equates to 24,192 interruptions a year. Even taking into account public holidays and vacation time. Let’s say that only half of those [checks] contain incoming email and each email interrupts you for only one minute. That means you waste 12,096 minutes per year. That is a staggering 25 days a year wasted through interruptions.”

Frightening stuff…

What to do?

I view email as very important but not imperative. In other words, I’ll deal with every email I get, but it might not be right away. If someone needs my attention urgently, they can call me. But clients rarely need my attention urgently.

Turn off push notifications

I’ve turned off email ‘push’ notifications on all my devices. So the only way I will know if I have emails is to open my email app and check.

Check at set times

I check my emails three times a day:

  1. When I arrive at my desk in the morning, with a cup of tea,
  2. Just before or after I take my lunch break, and
  3. Near the end of the day, before I head home.

Prioritising emails

I try my best to get back to every email within 2 working days.

Some emails require a speedier reply than others, so even if I receive an email in the lunchtime ‘window’ it might not be dealt with until later that afternoon or the following day.


There are always exceptions to the rule. If a client has an urgent issue and needs my attention for immediately, I have a dedicated email mailbox set up for this which sends a notification to all of my devices, no matter where I am.

Staying in control

In order to keep in control of my working day I’ve had to take the step of formalising my email workflow.

Do you do anything similar? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter!


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