“Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.”
“Only check email at set times during the day.”
“Make appointments for important tasks.”
There’s no shortage of productivity advice out there between blogs, books, presentations and workshops. Often, you will hear repeated “conventional wisdom” concepts like the three above recycled throughout the leadership, productivity, and career space, although packaged in different ways. (I see the irony.)
However, sometimes I wonder if the “conventional wisdom” tidbits are myths–at least for some people and some situations. Let’s examine three.
Don’t Check Your Email First Thing in the Morning
If I’d followed that advice the morning I originally began writing this post, I would have missed something important. While I was sleeping, a couple of emails had arrived, regarding changing the location for a lunch gathering the next day. By seeing that email early in the morning, I was able to make adjustments in my schedule (before the change snuck up on me.)
I’m sure you’ve had it happen as well. The content of an email changes the focus of the day, or you get a significant bit of information that will be useful in some capacity later. So the idea of never looking at your email early in the morning may not be that productive after all.
I realize email can distract us and we should not be addicted to it. However, a quick glance in the morning may not hurt, to see what, if anything, may change the course of your plans for the day. The key is just to take a quick glance to see if anything important has come through. If you are not able to do that and get distracted, then it might be better for you to stay off it.
Only Check Email at Scheduled Times
Complementing the above concept is the idea of setting appointments to check email during the day. This suggestion isn’t bad advice. For many positions, a professional can dip into email just a couple of times a day and be fine. However, we must remember that there are many roles for which this is not practical. Executive and Administrative Assistants, Customer Service Specialists, and frontline office staff cannot get away with not checking email regularly. Managers need to keep tabs on what is needed by their team and maintain the information flow for projects. In some cases, email IS the bulk of the work for the day, yet we see an overarching condemnation of “wasting our time on email all day.” Are we indeed? If we are answering questions, helping our team, clients or constituents, or providing value to those we work with, is it a waste of time after all?
Of course, there are certain positions where we would rather you check email at scheduled times. Medical personnel, law enforcement, teachers, please take note.
Make Appointments on Your Calendar for Projects and Tasks
Another bit of wisdom commonly shared is to make appointments with yourself to handle certain tasks. In fact, friends used to good-naturedly joke with me when they learned I would schedule out even mundane things, and I still use an interval timer to guide me through rituals like my morning routine. I finally learned, though, that my days did not often follow the exact flow I put on the calendar. So now I use a hybrid approach, often blocking out segments of time to focus on an area of work, but allowing some fluidity within them. For example, I can block off “9 to 12” to attend to projects, and then drill down in a less formal way (i.e. a piece of paper or a dry erase board) if I need to allocate one hour toward one project and 30 minutes toward another. Overall, though, keeping it as a block on my calendar makes it less visually cluttered.
This recommendation, of course, doesn’t apply to actual appointments you have made to meet with people!
A piece of conventional wisdom is not automatically a myth. However, use discernment when applying the tips you read to the career you have. Productivity concepts are not one size fits all, even if they are in style.