Source: Dana Brownlee, Senior Contributor
If you’re like most of us, you may wake with a visceral urge to check email first thing in the morning. Somehow email checking has worked its way up the food chain to become an almost physiological need ranking just below going to the bathroom and brushing our teeth.
While somewhat understandable given our 24/7 technologically driven environment, that seemingly innocent reflexive urge can really set us up for failure throughout the rest of our workday. So if you’re in the habit of scanning your email as you scarf down a quick bite (or even before then), take heed. The real-time satisfaction might not be worth it in the long run so you just might want to reconsider this seemingly innocent habit.
The truth is that checking email first thing in the morning can in fact set us up for chaotic, less productive workdays. “Your inbox is nothing more than everyone else’s to-do list for you,” explains Working Simply, Inc.’s Managing Partner Carson Tate. “If you start your day reacting to everyone else’s emergencies and needs, you divert time and energy away from your priorities.” To reduce stress and enhance productivity, it’s critically important to start mornings in the driver’s seat – methodically and intentionally deciding how you’ll allocate your time and energy, and obsessively monitoring email can too often sabotage our ability to do that.
How does it happen? Consider these all too common scenarios:
- You always scan your email while eating your morning oatmeal (healthy and efficient, right?), and you are floored to read a bluntly worded email from your colleague Pam. As you choke a little reading her curt message, you immediately start mentally obsessing on her message (and your planned response). You’re now agitated and barking orders for your kids to grab their backpacks, racing out the door to make it to carpool on time and all the way fuming about your interpretation of the quickly read email.
- Your alarm sounds and you grab the phone to turn it off, then, of course, check email for anything urgent from your boss Lisa. One of the first emails is your daily entertainment news roundup, and you can’t believe the latest celebrity break up. You knew it would never last, but you’re still shocked to hear about the recent restraining order. After reading the linked article, you realize that you’re now 15 minutes late-waking the kids. Shoot – now you’re behind schedule and probably won’t have time to do any prep before your 8 am meeting. Well, you’ll have to wing it.
- Feeding your toddler can take so much time in the morning that you’ve developed a habit of checking email on your phone at the same time. This morning you’re so glad you did because you were able to respond quickly to an important client message. Unfortunately, 45 minutes later when you settle into your desk and fire up your desktop, you see an angry message from your boss. You actually sent the client the wrong pricing information (because you inadvertently mistyped it during spoonfuls) and now you’re going to have to explain it to your boss Carl….yikes!
While checking email before brushing our teeth can feel eerily natural, it’s just an awful way to start our day, and the habit is rife with risk. Possibly, more important than the explicit risk is the huge opportunity cost – what it prevents us from accomplishing in the morning to set ourselves up for success. “The most important way to start your morning is on your own terms,” insists Michelle Wax, founder of American Happiness Project.
“When we do this we give away our control first thing in the morning and allow outside factors to determine how our day will unfold. Starting our days off in “response mode” diminishes productivity as we haven’t set our own goals and priorities.”
Certainly, there aren’t hard and fast rules on when and how often to check email and there will always be unique and extreme circumstances that challenge best practices, but for most falling into a habit of reflexively checking email first thing in the morning is a dangerous one.
Consider your own habits. How soon do you check email after waking? Do you quickly scan or take time to read an email before breakfast? Are you actually responding to emails before your “workday” has officially started? If you’re answering “yes” to one or more of these, you may want to step back and consider how well this habit is actually serving you. It may feel natural and easy at this point, but how is it really serving you? Remember, that just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, more often the habits that are the best for us – exercising, eating well, meditating, listening without interrupting – often feel the most unnatural or difficult initially and we have to simply force ourselves to do them until they begin feeling more natural.
If you agree that checking email first thing in the morning is indeed a habit you’d like to shake, but you’re wondering about the best way to shake the habit, stay tuned for an upcoming article on this topic.