There are plenty of articles that insist checking email first thing in the morning is harmful to your productivity and will completely derail your entire day. Well, I have one thing to say to that: Don’t tell me what to do!
I’m going to present a case for checking email first thing in the morning. I know, I know: It’s a slippery slope that will land me in a pointless pursuit of Inbox Zero that I’ll never succeed in achieving. But consider this hard-earned lesson that I’ve picked up along the way: Sometimes you get important and time-sensitive emails in the morning (even if you are a lowly peon), and in order to avert disaster, you need to be on those emails ASAP. Here are the four almost-disasters that made the case for AM Email-Checking crystal clear to me:
At my first job, despite being in a salaried position, I had to fill out time sheets because our work hours were billed to the client. If we wanted to get paid (yes please!), we had to submit those time sheets to our manager for sign-off by Wednesday morning.
I regularly forgot to submit my sheets on Tuesday evening, and thus regularly got action-needed-immediately emails on early Wednesday mornings. If I didn’t check my email first thing on Wednesday morning, I was sure to receive a tense phone call reminding me to turn in that time sheet, and I would have to spend extra time away from pressing daily tasks in order to pick up the phone and rush to fill out the time sheet (Pro Tip to self: set an automated reminder on Tuesday night to avoid the wrath of your manager).
Case verdict: Check email in the morning.
Back when I was young and reckless (by which I mean…yesterday), I would submit code that wasn’t completely tested to run in an application my coworkers and I were building out. On at least two occasions, I accidentally broke the build (meaning I submitted and merged un-vetted code that ran amuck and broke the application we were all working on). While a break like this is completely fixable, it’s also a big “No-no.”
On those two occasions, the break happened right before I left for the day. My early-bird coworkers would send me a bright-and-early email the next day to let me know that I needed to fix the break ASAP. If I didn’t check my email first thing, I wouldn’t have realized anything was wrong until someone physically hunted me down.
Verdict: Check email in the morning.
I work with a tech team leader who corresponds with us remotely. And by remotely, I don’t mean from a café somewhere in the next city over. I mean Serbia.
This means that the tech leader on my team works in a time-zone that is six hours ahead of me; just four hours of our workday overlap. I absolutely need to check my email first thing in the morning so that I have time to talk to my leader before his day ends…or I will not have any higher-level feedback on the crucial aspects of new projects. And we all know what happens when you have to go rogue and work for extended periods of time without critique or help on an important piece of work (hint: disaster).
Verdict: Check email in the morning.
The three cases above involve checking email as soon as I roll into the office. But after these professional brushes with crisis, I’ve gone one step farther and started checking email in the morning, before I’m even at work. And I actually like it. While I rarely respond to the emails before getting into the office, I like knowing what to expect before arriving.
I like spending my commute gathering my thoughts on how I want (or need) to arrange my day and meditate on a solution for a specific problem I’m working on. This shortens the time I spend settling-in when I set foot in the office. I’ve saved a lot of time by not hemming and haw-ing (and settling on a schedule) by giving my demands and to-do lists an overview from my apartment before setting off for the day.
Verdict: This is a personal preference, but…check email in the morning.
Of course, everyone has their own preferences and habits. Plus, the work you do and the role you have will dictate how important email is to your productivity and collaboration. But I’m writing this to say: If you’ve been productivity-shamed out of checking email in the morning, but you have a feeling that it’ll genuinely help your professional success, you do you. Do what works for your situation. Because, unlike productivity gurus, not everyone has the luxury of checking their emails hours after people have started the work day.
Tanya Do’s dream is to join the circus, but in the meantime she’s working as a software developer and writes about tech things at Tanyado.com.
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