Morning Email: Check In Without Checking Out

If you’ve ever worked in a position where regular communication via email is important, you know what I’m about to discuss.

We’re all guilty of it. It’s 8:00 AM. You’ve sat down at your desk, your computer is warming up for the day. You open your email application and BOOM, there’s a metric butt load of emails waiting for you, nay pining for you, nay downright stabbing each other for your attention. The red bangs, the forty replies from a large group, the attachments, oh God the attachments!

I came across a great article by Chris Guillebeau this afternoon about how he finds a way to check his email every morning, but doesn’t let it consume him. How could this be? Only wizards hold such power as to deflect the mind-controlling gaze of a full inbox.


I check email every morning—not always “first thing” but usually pretty early. I take a quick scan, delete or archive anything irrelevant, and send any urgent replies. This quick scan takes an average of 10-15 minutes on average. [emphasis mine]

Quick scan. That’s the key. Unless its from HR telling you your giant raise came through or your boss telling you your giant pay cut came through, it can probably wait.

Guillebeau goes on to talk about the post-email-check session. After checking his email, he starts work. Real work. Stuff he actually has to get done. Those emails are just sitting there, and that’s perfectly okay.

Let’s not jump to conclusions, though. It’s fine to come back to emailing every now and then, but don’t let it become a distraction.

Sit down and complete a full task before checking email again.

I do this on a regular basis. It irritated former co-workers who were still stuck in 1999 and email seemed to be the only way to get a hold of me, never mind that IM, text, phone calls, or God forbid, a desk visit were also viable options.

Did you get my email? – Every co-worker who uses email as an excuse to start a conversation about said email’s topic.

I want to take Chris’ ideas one step further, though. I think it’s important to set clear boundaries. Establish yourself as that guy in the office who will:

Address every message at some point throughout the day.
Between X and Y hours, you will review all messages as necessary. Between those times of your choosing, you’re doing other stuff. Feel free to even close your email program. It’ll all still be there. Trust me.

Speak with you in the appropriate manner regarding a message or multiple messages.
If you receive a group mail about donuts in the kitchen, promptly punch* the sender with a donut.

(* in your mind. Assault is assault, people.)

Tell you to “see me” if it’s really that damn important.
You’re in the same work area, Bob, for crying out loud.

Promptly turn you away if you’re coming to talk about an email you just sent.
If you were going to come talk to me, why did you bother sending the email? “For your records” is a lame excuse. Stop it. I’ll come see you if it’s warranted.

That’s how I survive my day. My last job involved a lot of this. I received roughly 20,000 emails a calendar year. Anything short of extreme distance from the Inbox from Hell resulted in a mental breakdown.

Now it’s your turn. How do you keep from getting distracted, sucked in, and ultimately overwhelmed by email? Share in the comments, below!

2 thoughts on “Morning Email: Check In Without Checking Out

  1. I’ve adhered to a zero inbox strategy for years. The rules of engagement were written on a whiteboard at my desk.

    I will respond to all email within 24 hours.
    If it’s urgent call me. Do NOT send email.

    It worked … for a while. It was a large organization — over 20,000 — and many people still operated as though everyone had the title of “Senior Email Checker”. I would get phone calls telling me that I had not responded to some very important or urgent email. I would check and … yep, they send it 10 minutes ago.

    1. yep, they send it 10 minutes ago.

      People hated me for it, but there came a point where I’d just say “I’ll take a look” and hang up or ignore everything after that if they were at my desk.

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