Richard Whately died in 1863, so it’s safe to say he never used email (not even AOL). Even so, he knew that to check email first thing in the morning was to invite disaster.
My first job out of grad school was with the Utah Symphony. At one point I was the entire marketing department, so as part of my effort to get hyper efficient I set up my computer to turn itself on at 7:54 and launch my email program. This allowed me to step off the bus, walk into my cubicle, and immediately see what had to get done that day.
You read that right—I was waiting until 8:00 to decide what my day’s work should be. Is it any wonder that by the time I left the symphony my work week was sixty hours long and I was totally burned out? Is it any wonder that when I applied to be the Marketing Director, the CEO felt I wasn’t management material?
I couldn’t even manage myself!
Looking at your email first thing in the morning is just about the most damaging thing you can do to your day, and here’s why:
1. Checking email first puts others in charge of your day
Unless you are a person who emails instructions to yourself, your inbox is made up entirely of other peoples’ priorities. When you start your day by opening and acting on email, you are telling yourself and the world that you will do what others tell you to do before you will do the things that are important to you. Executing on your priorities is not selfish, it’s your job. (click here to tweet that)
2. Checking email first is distracting
Yeah, I know…you need to “check in so that you know which fires need to be put out.” I said this to myself for years, but the chances that this morning’s fire is yours to put out are very, very small. Today’s fire drill will be a distraction from your real work…unless you don’t know about it; so be ignorant and work on preventing fires in the first place.
3. Checking email first is lazy
When I was at the symphony, I used my inbox to tell me what to do. It was so much easier than doing the work of planning, prioritizing, and developing discipline.
4. Checking email first is disruptive
Email is connected to the internet and opening your email can lead you down a rabbit hole that will end your productive day before it even begins. To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, “It’s a dangerous business, checking your email. You click one message, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
5. Checking email first is contagious
If you feel like people expect you to respond to email first thing in the morning, it’s probably because that’s what you do. It’s likely not your fault; others at your company were doing it before you arrived, and once a few people are doing it everyone else has to or risk looking bad. So here’s your chance to stand out: let people know you will not be looking at email first thing in the morning and teach them why. Start a new trend; be the ambitious employee who is willing to throw off the status quo and be truly, proactively productive.
Here is a method I have used to get at least one important thing done every day. Before I leave my desk, I write on a small piece of paper one thing that must be done tomorrow and I put it on my keyboard, then I don’t open my email until that thing is done.
I’ve had my say, now here is a question for you: Do you check email first thing in the morning? Why or why not? Please share your insights in the comments below.