The first thing most people do when starting work each day, and why you should cap it.

blog Jan 07, 2020

Ask seven people what the first thing they do when they start work in the morning. Nearly everyone will say, ‘email’.

So, go with reality. If that is what you feel compelled to do, don’t fight it, recognise it. While I have done a heap of reading and know working on the most important priority for the day straight up, in the first hour of the day, is the best approach, I can’t do it. I must clear my emails first.

As outlined and provided in our Effective Team Member course, put in three 30 minute ‘admin’ blocks in your day. At the start, either side of lunch and at the end of the day. Then lock yourself out of your email (there are tools recommended in the course) so you can focus and work on the big stuff.

Being a recovering perfectionist I like to make sure everything is ‘in order’ before I break for lunch. Other people put their second admin block in right after lunch.

Things that go into an ‘admin’ block should be general administration. If it is clearing your emails then it would include emails you can reply to, forward on, read and delete or read and file in less than 2-5 minutes each. If the email requires more than 2-5 minutes if your time it is bigger than your admin block, so plan some time for it.

Other things that can in your ‘admin’ time include:

  • Clearing mail and other items in your physical inbox (i.e. your office desk, or a tray on your desk)
  • Planning your day
  • Making some quick phone calls

Have you ever started to ‘clear’ your emails first thing, then look up and it’s 2pm? Where did my morning just go!? Email can be an addictive thing and without discipline it can erode productivity. Don’t confuse being busy with email being productive. Are you working on the right things? You would be if you had planned your week and your day AND enacted discipline early in the morning.

New York Time Best Sellers Tim Ferriss – author of ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ – and David Allen – author of ‘Getting Things Done’ both recommend limiting your ‘admin’ time. Tim says twice a day, and not before 11am, and David advocates three times a day.

I’m with Dave.

As much as I see the sense in not clearing email until 11am, and cracking on with important rocks and strategic work for the first 2 to 3 hours, it just distracts me. My mind is pulled by thoughts of “I wonder who loves me this morning?” “Have those music festival tickets I put myself on the waiting list come through?”

Up to you which discipline you choose, Tim or Dave’s, but I highly recommend building the habit of disciplined email checking no more than three times a day. For me, it’s the hardest Effective Team Member habit to build.

Clearing your email, getting to ‘Inbox Hero’, two or three times a day still ensures you provide great service to your internal and external customers. At the worst you are replying to emails every 4 to 5 business hours.