Here’s the thing.

In theory, I believe that email isn’t work. In my view, email isn’t a creation-based process that results in shipping your next product out the door, or writing your next book, or recording your next album. Email isn’t as creatively taxing as getting a project done, and email doesn’t add up hour after hour, day after day, to a completed project.

And so, for those reasons, I agree with folks who say that you should never email first thing in the morning. Instead, with those first few hours of peak energy that most of us have upon waking, we should focus on our most difficult task of the day, and get that done. This is not a new idea.

It’s a theory proposed in Eat that Frog: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time and in many other books on productivity. I even touch on it in my own ebook about creating a morning routine, The Present Principle: Seven Steps to Life in the Now. (I’ll go further into depth in my upcoming book, Greater Expectations: Succeed (and Stay Sane) in an On-Demand, All-Access, Always-On Age.)

But telling you when not to email isn’t suggesting you when you should respond to emails.  So when should you respond to emails, if not in the first few hours of the morning when you first turn on your computer?

I believe there are a few key times when it’s best to do real emailing. And by “real” emailing” I mean when you spend a chunk of time devoted to working through a bunch of emails, and not when you send a one-off urgent response to something from your iphone or from your computer while you’re typing furiously in a Word document to meet a deadline in another screen.

Here are the best times, according to yours truly:

  • As much as possible, email should be done in bulk. There are always one-off exceptions to this rule, but in order to attain true productivity you need to slot the bulk of your emailing into specific times of the day – and preferably not too many times! The alternative, which most of us fall into the trap of, is doing our “real” work all day with email perpetually in the background, ready to interrupt our concentration and derail us for the most minor of emails.
  • Email should be done when you have less energy, rather than more. So figure out when that is, whenever it is, and create a block of time in your schedule to fit in your emailing in that period. In my experience, the lull in the afternoon is a great time to go through a bunch of non-urgent emails.
  • If you believe in multi-tasking (which I do, within certain limits), email can even be a great candidate for a multitasking activity. Try emailing while listening to a conference call (on mute), while wrangling a kiddo or two, while watching the news, or while monitoring the spaghetti sauce.

So when do you get the bulk of your emailing done? Do you agree that email should be done when you have less energy – not more? What have you found work for you in taming the email beast?

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