How to Destroy Your Productivity by Answering Emails


This is a guest post by Karol K., who writes at If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guest post guidelines.

Photo by Alaivani

“Day: A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent.” – Ambrose Bierce

Meet Mark. Mark is an entrepreneur and he has his own business. His job is to design websites for his clients. Everybody says that Mark is good at what he does. As the matter of fact they say that he’s one of the best. Every day he has more clients and less time.

Here’s what his day looks like. Each day Mark spends about 30 minutes to commute to work. Once he arrives at the office he turns his computer on. Starts the web browser, email software, Photoshop, and begins to do his work. Mark designs websites, schedules meetings with clients, writes some basic copy, draws mock-ups, and every time he gets an email he stops working for a minute to read it and write an answer. When he’s done for the day he spends another 30 minutes on the highway. At home he enjoys a movie or a can of beer. Before going to sleep he manages to turn his computer on for a couple of minutes, and checks if he has received any emails. He answers them quickly and goes to sleep. Professional attitude, ain’t it?

Time goes by, and Mark lands more contracts every month. His business grows on couple of different fields. He has to deal with more emails every day. He reads every one of them just like he’s been doing it for the past years. The only problem is that now they’re interrupting his work every 15 minutes or so. They’re destroying his concentration and focus. After every reply he has to take a couple of minutes just to return to the previous state of mind he had had before the interruption happened, so he can continue with his work. The minute he achieves it, bam! – a new email shows up.

Sound familiar?

Here’s the easiest way to ruin your productivity – work with your email client turned on permanently.

Here’s a news flash: an email client is not something mandatory to live, like breathing… you can safely turn it off. I’ve done it some time ago, and since then I’m much more productive.

Here’s what I want you to do (only 3 little things):

  1. Check your email only two times a day (in the morning – around 9 AM, and in the afternoon – around 3 PM when you’re finishing your work).
  2. Don’t answer immediately after receiving the email.
  3. The most important one: never, and I mean never (!) answer emails in the evening.

“But if I don’t answer immediately my world will crash”. No, it won’t. Actually something entirely different will happen. You will feel free again. And there’s no difference whether you work for someone else or have your own business. Same rules apply.

Work only at designated times

First and foremost, we all know that working non-stop kills your productivity. It’s a similar thing to doing some kind of physical activities. After a workout you need to take some time to regenerate and rest. Same thing with doing mental activities. Your brain needs its time to rest and regenerate too. That’s why you need to designate specific hours for work and rest.

You need to take the same approach while doing specific activities at work. Everything needs to have its place (multitasking kills your efficiency – I’ll get back to this point another time). If you don’t designate specific period in time for checking emails and just pretend to be good at multitasking, then it will hang in the air over you and demand some attention all the time, constantly decreasing your productivity. Frequent interruptions won’t let you handle all the things you planed to do during the day.

As simple change as escaping from captivity of your email client and checking it only twice a day, will dramatically improve the quality of your work.

Respect your time and privacy

Why is it not worth the effort to answer emails the minute they arrive or in the evenings? Because it sends false signals to the receiver.

You’re probably thinking that your client would like the fact that you can reply in no time… you’re right – they would like that. But the problem is that now you’ll have to answer their emails in a flash each time they send you something, because they’ve been used to that. If, someday, for some reason you are not able to reply immediately they will be very disappointed, because that’s not the way they’ve been treated so far.

The same thing with answering emails in the evenings. You don’t want anybody to expect you to be on duty round the clock. You’re not a doctor in ER, and you don’t need this kind of responsibility in your life. The only thing you need in the evenings is relaxation.

What you need to do is to accustom your recipients to the fact that you will always reply within 24 hours from receiving the email. This way they can be sure that they’ll receive your answer. They’ll get it in a specific time range – during your work hours.

If you want others to have respect for your time and privacy, then you will have to develop this respect in yourself and to yourself. Be a professional, not a slave.

All right, it’s about the time somebody tells the truth…

Emails are the best tool of procrastination

That’s right. If we don’t feel like doing the thing that’s really important to us at some given time, the thing we really need to do, then we’ll always find the way of procrastinating around it by doing other (seemingly important) things and justify the reason why we’re not doing the one really important thing.

“I will do it but first I’ll just check my mail.” – How many times have you had this thought? Checking emails is one of the main elements of “the vicious circle”. Here’s what I mean.

Did you ever encounter such a situation: you sat at your desk, you had specific things to do according to your plan, you were excited and full of energy to start your work, and you were just about to begin but in the last second you’ve decided to check your email. When you got that done you had a quick visit on Facebook, then you checked what’s happening on Twitter, and then you had to make sure that you’re up to date with everything that’s happening around the world so you visited Yahoo! … and then guess what, you checked your email client again, then Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and so on. Before you realized it, it was midnight.

That’s what procrastination is in its purest form. You really need to eliminate the email client from this circle. So again, just designate specific hours for checking your email, and stick to this plan as if your life depended on it. Once you know that you’re not allowed to check your email you will have to put your hands on something different and maybe stop procrastinating…as simple as that.

(You can designate specific hours for Facebook and Twitter too. In fact, I encourage you to do so.)

What are your experiences?

What has changed in your life since you’ve turned your email client off? Share below.

About the author: Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland who shares his thoughts at Tune in to get his Getting Things Done (GTD) tips, internet marketing ideas and other online business related stuff.

Photo by Alaivani


  1. says

    These are great tips. I’m trying to limit how often I check my e-mail, but it isn’t easy. I find it especially tempting to check e-mail (or Facebook or a news site) when I’m feeling sleepy and lacking the energy to be productive. Since I don’t have the option of leaving work to take a power nap, I sometimes fill the time with mindless surfing and e-mail checking.

  2. Saeb Amini says

    I could replace Mark with my name in the starting paragraphs and paste the whole thing in my diary.

    Thanks for this awesome article!