Through a group of public relations professionals I recently joined, I was encouraged to turn off email notifications on my phone.

Now, that seemed like a wild idea for me, because what if I got an email from a journalist that I needed to respond to immediately?

Michael Smart, who leads the group, encouraged everyone to really think it over. How frequently did they truly get emails they needed to respond to immediately? For me, the answer was — not as often as I’d thought.

So I picked up my phone, headed over to settings, and turned off email notifications.

This forced me to rethink how I check email entirely.

Prior to turning off email notifications, I was checking email whenever I felt like it. Often, I’d check my inbox multiple times a day without necessarily responding. I would, however, aim to hit IBZ before the end of the week. This meant that the people I was emailing were getting their responses at 5 pm on a Friday. (Sorry if you were one of these people!)

Instead, Michael encouraged everyone to only check their emails at set times during the day.

For me, that was twice a day. With this new system, I’m answering emails more quickly than before, checking my email only twice a day (significantly less than before), and getting zero email notifications on my phone.

Here’s the system I use to do it: 

The email system I use to only check email twice a day

email system check twice a day hailley griffis

First email check — mid-morning

The first check of the day happens in the morning. I intentionally do it after I’ve done my focused work for the day, which might be writing, planning, or adjusting my strategy.

In this first email check, I’m primarily closing out emails I don’t need to reply to so I get a true number of how many emails I have. Usually, it’s about 10 – 20 a day. We have transparent email at Buffer and although I have tons of email filters set up, I still get emails from other teams that it’s fun to check out but I don’t need to respond to.

In this first check, I’m often not responding. Rather, I’m making sure nothing is urgent. If it’s a really quick response or it’s about something happening today, then I’ll respond. Otherwise, the email gets answered in my evening.

I do this so that email doesn’t suck up too much at the beginning of my day, which is when I tend to get the most done.

Second email check — end of the day

The second time I check email in a day is at the very end of the day. All of my creative energy is usually drained at this point, so I have no problem sitting down and putting on music (usually Brain FM) to answer emails.

This second check is when I aim to get to Inbox Zero (IBZ). None of these emails were urgent (if they were, I’d have answered them in the morning) but they often merited a response so I aim to get through all of them.

One of the things I do is that even if I can’t fully answer an email’s request, reply to let them know I received it and am working on an answer. For example, if a conference is looking for a speaker from Buffer but I need to confirm someone first, I’ll let them know we’re interested and I am coordinating who the best speaker might be for that conference. 

I thought this second email check might take me an hour at the end of my day every week, but all week it took no more than 30 minutes a day and I got to IBZ four out of five days of the week.

This won’t work for everyone, but how you approach email is worth a second glance

This system might not work for everyone. I know many people who receive either far fewer or far more emails than me in a day, so their system might need to be adjusted. But if you have also struggled with checking email several times a day and are not required to do so by work, then it’s worth giving your email system another glance to see if it can’t serve you better. 

This won’t work for you if:

  • Email is the primary way you communicate with your team or clients and they expect a quick response. (Notice I didn’t turn off Slack notifications, which is how I communicate with my team, but maybe that’s next.) 
  • You do get important emails every hour. (Make sure you’re defining important accurately.) 
  • You’re not willing to commit to spending focused time responding to emails. (If you’re just going to ignore emails completely without the notifications on your phone, well that’s a different work strategy. This is more for people that do intend to respond eventually, just not in a timely matter.) 

One last thing

If you spend your day working on priorities that others have set for you (email) then you aren’t really focused on moving ahead with your own goals and priorities. Email is letting others control your time. I feel like I’ve taken a huge chunk of my time back this week and I don’t plan on giving it away anytime soon. I hope you find email peace as well one day.

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