How I do email (confessions of an addict)

I don’t have an addictive personality. I can comfortably stop after one drink. I’ve never been in rehab, and I’ve never done a 12-step program.

But email does have the potential to undo me.

If I’m not careful I can alt-tab back to my email browser hundreds of times a day, completely derailing any proper work I’m trying to do.

So informed by Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Dermot Crowley’s Smart Work, here’s how I do email:


  • Not before 10am. On an ideal day I’ve knocked over my three big tasks for the day by 10am, and then checking my email is the reward. (If I’m delivering a program I’m allowed to break this rule).
  • Not on my phone. I’ve hidden the app on my phone and it’s not part of my daily workflow. I function better and am more present without the temptation of email on my phone.
  • Ideally I check a maximum of 3 times a day. Doesn’t always work, but that’s what I shoot for.
  • I’ll generally reply to yesterday’s emails. If we’re going to get into an email tennis match, I want to slow it down a little, and just play one shot a day. This means I’ll often read an email twice, which isn’t what the productivity gurus recommend, but it works for me.
  • And (weekends, holidays and big delivery days aside) I’ll never have anything older than yesterday in my inbox. So I clear my inbox daily but not to inbox zero, down to the emails that have arrived today that I’ll reply to tomorrow.


Hope that helps.