Don't let email derail your day

Don't let email derail your day!

Last week, I had the privilege of running three half-day corporate productivity workshops chock full of strategies to be more efficient and effective at work. It is always interesting to understand the struggles people are facing to be as productive as they would like to be. Feeling in control of your time and feeling fulfilled at the end of a day are recurring themes.

I last worked as a corporate employee in 2007 when smartphones had not yet truly crossed over into the personal domain. Times have changed and work and life intersect more fluidly and richly than ever before. This presents both challenges and opportunities.

With phones constantly at arms’ length, the majority of people I speak with check email first thing in the morning. In fact it is often the last thing done before going to bed. I was pleased to find out one person stopped keeping the phone beside the bed because she had actually been replying to email in the middle of the night! This, of course, led to a great discussion on setting and defending boundaries.  But, back to email…

One of the principles I teach is to “beware checking email in the morning”. The threat is that an incoming email may unnecessarily shift you off the course you have planned for yourself.

To avoid this happening, start your day with review of your schedule. If you have planned in advance, your schedule is your thought-through roadmap for the day. Surely things will come up that may cause you to re-prioritize, but at least you will have made some decisions about what tasks you wanted to do to further your goals. New requests can be compared to your existing plan and assessed based on importance and urgency. A great question to ask yourself before accepting a new request is: “What will happen if I don’t get this done?” 1

A practical tool to help focus on your schedule is to get in the habit of opening your calendar first on your phone, and setting your computer’s email client to open to your Calendar instead of your Inbox.

If you use Outlook 2010, here are the three simple steps you need to take:

1. Open the File menu and select Options
2. Select Advanced
3. In “Outlook start and exit”, change the option from “Inbox” to “Calendar” and hit OK>

Tell me, does email derail your day? How can you stop that from happening?


1. Source:  Silcox, D. (1980) Woman Time, Personal Time Management for Women, p 69

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