How I cured my checking-email-too-often habit!

By: standss , Sep 21st, 2010

Do you have an unconscious habit of going to your Inbox too many times in a day? Do you find yourself clicking Send&Receive many times a day, I know I did. In this post I share what I found were the causes of the habit (for me) and a simple solution that has worked exceptionally well for me.

Why is this a bad habit?

For me… I was finishing the day feeling like I had accomplished littledespite being busy for most of the day… which is another way of saying that I had wasted my day doing unimportant work.

So… why do we check emails so often?

My personal experience… I think that the main reasons are BOREDOM or DIFFICULTY. Some self-analysis revealed that most of my unintended expeditions to my Inbox were when:

  1. I was bored of what I was doing and was hoping to find something more interesting to work on in my Inbox… or
  2. The work I was involved in had come to a point which required a difficult decision… and I was hoping to find something easier to do in my Inbox… something to help me avoid the difficult decision.

When you see it in writing, it’s pretty clear that they are not valid reasons for checking email. The problem is that they become habits… I was doing it without even realising it.

How I cured myself (or at least got an acceptable level of control over it)

Here’s a process that has worked very well for me.

  1. Check your emails and respond to whatever you need to.
  2. Decide on what you will work on next 40 minutes (or until the task is complete)
  3. Close Outlook (unless you need to access your emails to do your work)
  4. Do you work!

After 40 minutes… take break and REPEAT.

The first week I tried this was amazing. I got more done in the first few hours of Monday than I used to get done in the first few days of the week.

Why did this work for me?

Having Outlook closed while I am focussing on a project makes it much harder to check my email without conscious effort. Finding Outlook closed reminds me that I am working on something else and helps break the unconscious  habit… it is much harder to click on the Send & Receive button when Outlook is closed (the normally annoying Outlook start-up time turns out to be useful habit-breaker in this situation).

I know that many productivity gurus say that we should only check our emails a few times a day and possibly schedule email time into our calendars. That does NOT work for me…. firstly because of the nature of my work… and because I like checking my email.

Using this method I can get good productive work done throughout the day… and also respond to my team and customers in a timely manner… and indulge my email habits.

Please tell if this method works for you by leaving a comment on the blog.

6 Replies to “How I cured my checking-email-too-often habit!”

  1. Hi Sanjay,

    Great advice. I am horrible at constantly checking my emails. I work for several organizations and have many email id’s for these different companies. I am always on my Entourage (Outlook for MAC).

    The reasons you identified resonate with me.

    I am going to try the process for myself and look forward to the results.

    Thanks for posting.


  2. My name is Kelly and I’m an email addict.

    This is the habit I’m working on breaking too! Same reasons. Bored or doing something hard and want a break – that turns to busy work instead.

    I use Gmail instead of Outlook. Recently I installed iGoogle as my homepage and purposely don’t have my Gmail linked to it. I have my To Do List front and center. So if I start to head to the internet, my first page is my To Do List to remind me to stay on task.

    When I find myself clicking to open Gmail – it takes longer than when Gmail was my home page. I have already caught myself today – and was able to get my finger to hit the “esc” key and get back on task.

    I’m sure I can change this habit, but it is proving to be difficult.

  3. Hello,
    and thanks
    I have the same bad habbit

    But closing down Outlook is not a solution (for me at least), as I need the Calendar option to be active and warn me of appointements at all times.

    So I am still looking at a way to have Outlook “Closed”, but still poppong out appointements

    Still loking…

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