How I Work: Mastering Email & Your Time

If you need me immediately, do not email me. Call me.

First, try the office. Then, my cell phone. If you do not have my cell phone, send me a message on Google Hangout, or ask someone at the office for it. Leave me voicemail.

In an attempt to reduce distractions, I am only checking emails three times a day: AM, lunch, and PM. If you have any interest as to why, please continue reading.

R.I.P. Email

Inboxes bleed new messages, and they pile up quicker than they can be addressed. We have built-it filters to catch junk mail. We then set our own filters to stop more junk and help organize the chaos. And we get newsletters from every-which-way, half of which we didn’t even subscribe to.

Unless you’ve already adopted an email management system, you’re probably looking at a few thousand unread messages. A large, ever-growing orb of red or blue.

And it’s distracting (more on that below). It dings and blinks, commanding attention.

So, I’ve opted to minimize it. Not on my desktop, but figuratively, minimize the amount of time I spent in emails, reading and writing.

To do this, a lot had to change.


I’ve been doing this for about six weeks now, and I haven’t heard a single complaint. I did notice more conversations started with  “Did you get that email?”

First, Reclaim Inbox: Make Email a Tool

Tackle the inbox

Follow the method linked above, I’ve wrangled my inbox. It’s a fine-tuned machine, firing on all cylinders, and working for me. I hath achieved the mythical Inbox Zero!

If you’re impatient, or brave, you can just nuke it. Select everything, mark it as read. Or select everything that’s a few months old & older, and mass archive it. Kapow! Freedom!

Then, start working on automation.

Use your tools: Filters, Rules, & Automate

Note the Oxford comma. That’s how I roll.

Unsubscribe from almost everything as it comes in. If you know you don’t want to stop receiving a particular newsletter, keep it.

If you’re uncertain about unsubscribing from any, just unsubscribe. You can always resubscribe if you miss it.

Better yet, create a filter to mark those as read & archived: they will show up if you search your email or check your archives, but won’t clutter your inbox.

Label & organize everything of importance. But keep in mind that your archives will hold every piece of email, ever, so you don’t need to over-organize. Just sort a bit, so everything isn’t in one huge folder.

Personally, following the system linked above (which I shall not link for a third time, you lazy people), I have a few labels which indicate action/status for certain email chains. I also have a few filters to tuck away automated work emails that I receive but are not actionable, but are organized together.

Reduce screen time

Email is still an interruption. An unread message meant something had to be addressed. There was something incomplete. Even if I just migrated the email’s pertinent info to Trello or Evernote, I’m technically neglecting the task I was working on prior to the email notification grabbing my attention.

So, close your email. Yes, close-it-close-it. Exit the program.

Okay, some of you will not be able to do this. For an unfortunate few, the nature of your role in the team is as an immediate contact. You’re a living inbox and filter system. This will typically be anyone in a customer service or administrative assistant role.

If this is you, I am very sorry. Email is, by design of your role, your master. But do not let it be your undoing. You can still adopt everything else mentioned here. In fact, you should.

To the rest of you: By limiting the time that your email is open, you limit the amount of interruptions you’ll receive throughout the day.

Get to the point, Brandon…

When Do I Check Email?

Personally, I use a timeboxing method, briefly mentioned above, setting aside large time blocks for work (2 hours), followed by an hour of email & admin. During the Email & Amin hours, I always start with email, digesting it all, and re-claiming Inbox Zero. I’ll then make calls and touch base on other projects as needed.

I try to front-load my day, eating the frog first, and tackling my toughest project first. I do this while my brain is as fresh as it’s going to get all day. You should try to tackle your mentally (and/or physically) tough tasks earlier in the day, while you’re freshest.

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
– Mark Twain

In Closing

I am no longer a slave to email. It’s increased my productivity, reduced my overall-anxiety, and helped me find focus in other practices.

This recent change has been part of my continued evolution of workflow. And as new tools are developed for our blossoming physical & digital worlds, so shall my workflow continue evolve.

Related, Other things that increase productivity:

  • Listen to a song on repeat. Try some longer jazz tracks, EMD music, or classical. This promotes you getting in flow.
  • Write down the day. First thing in the morning, a use a productivity planner to plot my day. If I get derailed, I try to get re-focused by reviewing the plan. In the mornings, I pick up where I left off.
  • Get more sleep. I’m slacking on this one, but a good night’s rest is key to how you feel the next day, both mentally & physically. Sleep more.
  • Establish a morning route. Get up early. Start the day slow and relaxed. Meditation! This sets the tone for a productive, calm day.


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