How Often Should You Check Your Email?

Depending on how you use it, email communication can be a way to interact effectively with people and make your work more efficient, or a major source for decreased productivity, stress and an early ulcer. Unfortunately, for many, it’s the latter.

As a communication coach, I am often asked be people looking to improve their business communication skills: “How many times should I check my work email each day?” Then they look at me with astonishment as I reply that twice every day is usually the optimum in my perspective.

The optimum email checking. First of all, I want to detail this answer:

  • If you have a job which requires a lot of email communication, but also a lot of other activities, checking your email twice each day is optimal.
  • If you have one of those jobs which require just a little email communication, once every day is enough.
  • If you have a job in which all/ the vast majority of your activity is reading and answering emails, checking your email 4-5 times every day may be optimal.

Most white collar workers are in this first category and checking their email twice every day is enough for them. Based on what their job is, very few workers actually need to check it 4-5 times every day.

Productivity down the drain. Despite of this, a lot of people tend to check their email constantly throughout the work day. They either open their Inbox every 30-60 minutes, or they open it every time they get a new email alert on their computer screen.

I cannot emphasize enough how unproductive this is. Checking your email this often means that you constantly interrupt various tasks. You defocus and refocus many times throughout the day, which is very hard and mentally exhausting. Then you get home and start complaining: “Man, my work is stressful! That company is working me like a mule!”

Email terrorism. Many people say they check their email so often because they are expected to give fast answers to the emails they receive. There is pressure on them from internal and external clients for expedient email communication.

But you see, that’s the problem! Email communication, through its nature, is not a fast communication method. Email is text-based, asynchronous, preplanned communication, and it’s supposed to take some time. The vast majority of expectations for fast email communication are unreasonable and the best thing you can do is to not put up with them.

Sure, you might think something terrible will happen if you do this. Trust me: I have seen plenty of people do it and they didn’t get fired, nothing really bad happened, while their skills to get things done and their productivity increased visibly.

My job involves a lot of email communication. But it also involves coaching, meetings, and writing articles on people skills, tasks which would constantly get interrupted if I would check my email 4-5 times every day. I used to do that at one point. Now, I only check it twice: once in the first part of the day, once in the second. And it’s great!

The phone alternative. If some people expect rapid reactions from you, guess what? That’s what phone communication is for. They can call you on the phone when they need a fast answer from you.

Make sure the people you interact with in your professional life understand your email and phone policies, that you only check your email twice every day, that you use your phone for emergencies, and you will see both some effective work and effective communication happening.

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Comments

  1. Its also always good (when you’re starting with this)to create an auto reply that says you’ll check your email as 9am and 2pm and if there is anything that is urgent, your phonenumber is ….
    .-= sandra´s last blog ..Deserving- intelligent and some general thoughts =-.

    • Yessss! I know people who used auto replies just like that one, and it helped them a lot to improve their productivity and communication.

  2. Eddie, you probably speak from the experience of an entrepreneur,not a manager in a corporation. But when the average number of emails per day is around 100, how do you manage to respond to them all?

    And again, corporations are bound to use email because of lack of trust: if it’s something written down, it’s binding. The more relaxed and trusting the company, the less emails you will find.

    I admit, I check 4-5 times a day (not every 5 minutes), and each time I get a chunk of about 10-20 emails to respond to. Fortunately, at least I have one simple rule – I respond in about 1 or max 2 lines. Or a Yes or No.

    What do you think?
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..The Time Thieves Killer Cocktail =-.

    • Maria, I’m not speaking solely from my experience. I have worked with managers in corporations who applied this and it worked for them.

      Following this model, when you get a lot of email, you do long email answering sessions, but you still do just 2 every day. The point is to read and answer all your email, but to not defocus all the time to do it. If you can do this 3 or 4 times in some days without interrupting other tasks, sure, do it. But the rule is 2 times.

  3. I hear so many people talk about this principle but it’s not something I’ve ever really given much thought to. If I get an email, I just respond to it or go back to it later.
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Raise Your Vision And Let Go Of Your Outcomes =-.

    • Whatever works for you man ;)

      I do recommend giving it a try to checking your email just twice every day. You might see some improvements.

  4. I would probably say that I check my email some 50 times a day. I do. I live and breathe on my email but lately I have started to wonder and now I give myself a 30minute break to check it and then try not do to so. I may be down to say 25 right now. I do get up early so it’s a rather long day, does that count? :)
    Ok I see your point and I will work on it Eduard…Now let’s not forget your lovely post came to me in email ;)!

    • Ha-ha, that doesn’t count Farnoosh :). It was automatic emailing.

      50 times? Wow! I think you’re in a phase I might call compulsive email checking.

  5. Hi Eduard,
    I do love your posts! I get heaps of emails a day, and I completely agree with your suggestion to only check once or twice a day. I do emails first thing in the morning (read and respond), and again after lunch – no more. The thing is, the people who expect you to respond instantaneously to their emails also expect you get lots of other work done during the day – can’t do both! To my mind, it’s about retraining their expectations rather than trying to meet them. Thanks for another fantastic post!
    Topi
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..5 life lessons Ive learned from my Mum =-.

    • Thanks Topi, I love your comments.

      Yes, I couldn’t have put it better myself! You can’t answer quickly to every email and be very productive in other tasks as well. I think people who expect this from you are unrealistic.

  6. Eduard: Thanks for this post. I really needed to hear this because there are days at work where I am held hostage by my e-mail :) I do think a disciplined approach and one that doesn’t continually suck you in every minute of your day is liberating. Thanks for all this great information.
    .-= Sibyl – alternaview´s last blog ..30 Things I Wish I Knew Earlier in Life =-.

  7. Just like the next person, I love checking my email and seeing what’s in my inbox and sending emails as well. Thing is, it’s like any other form of communication, you have to limit yourself and really stick with it.

    If you don’t check your email 20 times a day you’re really not going to miss much. In fact, from my own perspective of things, if you check your email more than a few (2 to 3, maybe 4 but rarely) times a day then you’re just letting it get in the way of other productivity you could be getting done.
    .-= Eric´s last blog ..Blogging Better- The Two Simple Ways To Do So =-.

  8. Hello Eduard,

    Thank you for highlighting how much we are affecting our productivity with constant checks on our emails. I have tried to cut down on checking my inbox but I believe I can do better than my current rate!

    With gratitude and appreciation,
    Evelyn
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Everlasting Tips To A Better Marriage Relationship =-.

  9. Hi Eduard

    Great tips. I can say, yes, I have been there, guilty of checking email every time one comes in… well the good news is I can laugh about it.

    These days, it all depends on what I am doing. I can let a day slide where I check my email a couple of times, and there are still days, where I check probably a few times too many ;)

    Thanks for the tips Eduard!
    .-= Evita´s last blog ..An Invitation to Think Brand New – The Time is Here =-.

    • Hi Evita,

      I sometimes have those kind of days when I’m checking my email often as well. It’s days when I do a lot of research on the net or surfing the web, so in a way it’s not a strain and it’s not affecting my productivity. All good.

  10. Sorry, but…no. I’m expected to respond to most of my email promptly. It’s part of my job. I never get an email from a client that does not need to be answered soon. At least 50% of my email is that urgent. If all those people called me with all those questions, how would that be less intrusive on my productivity? That would just be plain annoying. And it’s not actually that hard for me to answer one email, and then go back to what I was doing. It’s called multi-tasking, also a part of my job. Better to answer them as they come then get swamped by a hundred or so every morning.

    • Hi Alice,

      Like I said, there are jobs and jobs. If answering mails quickly is part of your JD, fine. However, this is not the case for most jobs. I’m curious, what do you work in?

      Multitasking, now that is a tricky concept. There is a lot of research out there pointing out that humans are generally not very good at multitasking. Especially men, but you don’t have this ‘problem’ :)

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