Productivity poll: how frequently do you think you *should* check email?

post by tog · 2015-01-10T16:36:57.680Z · score: 2 (7 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 32 comments

How frequently do you think you *should* check email? You can also say how frequently you do in comments.

Personally I'm sold on thinking you should check it around once a day, not necessarily without fail. That increases focus on both email and non-email, and minimises getting sucked into distractions. But some people I know disagree. Some believe in getting notifications whenever a new email comes in.

For anyone who'd like to check email less often and uses GMail, I recommend using http://inboxpause.com/ and this full screen compose link: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?ui=2&view=cm&fs=1&tf=1&shva=1

Edited to add: I'd recommend everyone at least try checking only once a day, at least for a few days, to see if you find it more productive and/or relaxing. That'd be a big enough win to make experimenting worthwhile.

32 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Dustin · 2015-01-10T17:20:08.527Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

This depends entirely on how you use email.

I do almost zero personal communication via email. It's all notifications, receipts, etc. Thus I check it maybe 4 or 5 times a week.

The frequency I would check my email would vary if I did personal conversations, or business conversations, or support, or etc.

On top of that, with GMail (or Google's Inbox), you can set up all sorts of filters and searches. My phone notifies me of new emails from my wife, whom I know doesn't abuse email, but new emails from my mom whom is likely to be forwarding me something...mom-ish...get read when I do my several-times-a-week look over my inbox.

comment by caffemacchiavelli · 2015-01-12T04:30:56.669Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That would be a cool feature for phone calls. Depending on situation (or mood), switch between happy hours where everyone gets through, serious caller only mode for business hours, and emergency mode for anything social or serious.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-10T23:09:00.876Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder how frequently people check LessWrong. :)

comment by Unknowns · 2015-01-11T09:20:41.740Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't exactly "check" email. I have Outlook permanently open on my secondary monitor and it downloads new mail every five minutes. However, I really don't look at it except about once every four hours or so (I use email constantly for work, so it wouldn't be safe to make the frequency lower than this). At the four hour point, I flag every item in the Inbox that requires some kind of non-immediate activity or response (and respond to the ones requiring immediate response). The flag is automatically set for tomorrow with a reminder, which effectively will give me a to-do list tomorrow from today's email. After flagging the appropriate items, I select all the emails and file them automatically and all at once with the batch file function from SimplyFile. The whole process (flagging and filing, thereby emptying the inbox) takes about one to three minutes for each four hour cycle.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-10T21:25:18.504Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't check my email. It notifies me when a message arrives. At least, it should, and Eudora did, but Apple Mail seems to be very unreliable about beeping when new mail arrives.

comment by falenas108 · 2015-01-12T04:43:04.846Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On Friday, I sent 13 emails and received about 40. 10 of those 13 were responses to others. Many of these were planning meetings or events where faster responses meant more got done today. This was not particularly unusual for a weekday. A couple of these were ones where we proceeded to have a conversation. I am a college student, but I am the leader of a couple groups on campus and heavily involved in a few more.

In my case, where about 1/4th of the emails I get need a response, I would say my current method of having a small pop-up come when I get an email works pretty well.

The once a day method works for people who don't need to respond, or response time is less important. But that's not true for everyone.

comment by caffemacchiavelli · 2015-01-12T04:20:55.388Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it matters much. I'm not a fan of instant notifications (avg. importance of my email is too low to justify the amount of distraction), but beyond that, checking frequency would be pretty low on my list of email productivity improvements.

I check mine once or twice a day; most of my email is pre-sorted correctly by using a bunch of filters and around a dozen of addresses with different uses and priorities. I don't think I could work with a global, unsegmented email inbox; I saw a friend use his years ago and it still terrifies me, even with his relatively low inflow (30-50/day).

comment by tog · 2015-01-12T11:40:59.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What would be high on your list, out of interest?

comment by caffemacchiavelli · 2015-01-12T15:30:48.220Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For me personally, writing email faster. It's really easy for me to get immersed trying to write the perfect email or forum post and burn through 40-60min without noticing. They're not even necessarily long, just excessively pruned and reformatted. Getting comfortable with an email with all the important content and okay phrasing saves me a bunch of time.

On second place, priority filtering, i.e. separating email to respond to from subscriptions, offers and notifications. Category filters are nice, but I don't think they're making me more productive.

Anything beyond that is kind of marginal for me. Shortcuts for inserting phrases are fun, but I don't use them that often. If I had to deal with repetitive inquiries, they'd probably be more important.

comment by tog · 2015-01-12T17:57:44.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd add using keyboard shortcuts, which are available in desktop clients and GMail.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-12T03:00:04.319Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As frequently as you need to, but no more that you need to.

comment by tog · 2015-01-12T11:41:35.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of note, that's pretty infrequently for most people.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-01-10T20:14:56.459Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I generally check my e-mail twice a day, once in the mid-afternoon, and once in the evening. I avoid checking it in the morning as that's my most productive time.

comment by robeenp · 2015-01-10T19:03:38.423Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can use GMail to set a filter for important messages.

Important messages should be handled shortly or you can get in trouble with your boss, bf, etc.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2015-01-10T18:54:05.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think once a day is a good number. I aim for 1-2 times a day (once in morning, once at night). Checking more than this seems like a huge time-waster unless there's a clear reason why it's crucial for performing one's job. I think most people underestimate the sheer amount of time lost to checking e-mail, after accounting for time lost due to context-switching.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-30T12:48:11.872Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Never, soon enough. checking breeds OCD. Instead, someone should hack together a publicly viewable email inbox and sent. They could leverage off the radical transparency movement, and have ifttt integration with public. It's an easy project that a team could make at a hackathon even.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-01-12T17:34:08.221Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I check my work email a bit over once an hour if I'm not specifically expecting anything important. Usually I note that nothing has come in, so it's very quick. I categorize each thing that comes in, which takes a few seconds for each category. I do not have a large volume of mail.

For personal email, I leave Mail open, and take note of incoming message popups, and sometimes click to it by accident. When I end up in Mail, I quickly make sure I didn't miss anything urgent (which is rare but does happen) and ignore the rest until the evening, or at least lunch.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-01-12T08:18:34.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I use a non-Web-based user agent and I have it check my mail for me every 5 minutes and notify me when I've got mail.

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2015-01-12T02:17:40.249Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I check it once a day. My work e-mail a few more times if I'm working (which involve a constant correspondance w/ people).

comment by DanielLC · 2015-01-11T00:34:32.771Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have an RSS feed that checks my email, and a chrome addon that checks my RSS feed every five minutes.

comment by Sjcs · 2015-01-10T23:23:27.840Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As my email is on my phone, I almost never proactively check my mail - instead I check it in a reactive manner. All my email addresses forward to a central email which is synced to my phone. Once email arrives, I check its contents and either:

  • archive it if I don't need to respond or need it for anything
  • mark it as read if I want to read it later or it requires a response
  • mark it as read and star it if it is really important (assuming I don't deal with it immediately)

Additionally, I have a pebble smartwatch which notifies me when mail arrives so I can keep my phone on silent, and I use the awear pebble app so I can star, mark read and archive emails without looking at my phone.

I also use a custom email domain with google business apps (basically gmail but with a custom email address). I have set it up so that I can put anything before the @ in the email address, and it will still reach my inbox. That way, everything I sign up to can have a personalised email address e.g facebook@mydomain.com or massdrop@mydomain.com. If I start getting spam from somewhere, I can often figure out where my email address leaked from, and forward everything to spam from that address.

comment by tog · 2015-01-11T22:42:29.801Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

everything I sign up to can have a personalised email address e.g facebook@mydomain.com or massdrop@mydomain.com

You can also do this with GMail - if your address is bob@gmail.com, bob+anystring@gmail.com and bob+anystring2@gmail.com will reach you (ie you can put anything after +).

comment by aubrey · 2015-01-12T11:26:40.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a useful tip. However, I find that many sites do not accept email addresses with + in them.

In the past I also found that I sometimes could not remember what I had added after the +, or even that I had put a +, so I could not sign in. Now I use a password manager so this part is no longer a problem for me.

comment by tog · 2015-01-12T11:40:01.461Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True.

LastPass is a good password/login storer for people who want to try this out.

comment by RowanE · 2015-01-10T18:52:12.176Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As long as you don't get too many emails a day, and/or you're the type that habitually keeps unread emails down to zero, the notifications thing works well. I use a browser extension that does it for gmail, I don't think it does anything to increase the time I spend checking email compared to if I just went through them once daily, it just means the time is distributed from one short bit to several even shorter bits throughout the day.

comment by Unknowns · 2015-01-11T09:27:21.664Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I believe that you are mistaken, regardless of the number of emails you get, as long as it is at least several per day. I used to do this and thought it wasn't wasting any time, but I became much more productive after adopting this method for handling email.

comment by RowanE · 2015-01-11T14:20:53.001Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On reflection, I only get things that actually need a reply a few times a week, and probably a majority are automatic ones that are effectively spam. I'm an undergraduate student with a poor work ethic, so most of what I do is much less productive than checking email, and that plus being more-or-less friendless means I have some preference for getting some emails per day regardless of what they are - I should fix this, upon doing so I'd probably only be getting 1-3 a day, still mostly not needing a reply.

But your system sounds like a waste of a monitor, I could resolve to just look at the icon in the corner of my screen for the browser extension and click through to gmail once every four hours, and there must be some kind of equivalent for outlook you could use - why dedicate a whole second screen to it?

comment by Unknowns · 2015-01-11T14:26:17.624Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't take the whole monitor, there are five or six other things on that screen also left open. There are several advantages to it being open, e.g. it's slightly faster to drop files etc onto it in order to create emails with attachments etc.

It would probably not make a big difference if I did something like you suggest, however.

comment by RowanE · 2015-01-11T14:35:40.977Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Right, yes, of course - I was typical-minding, I personally find having several small window open on a screen aggravating, seems "imperfect" and ugly compared to one maximised window per screen at a time.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-07-13T08:56:07.823Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Whenever you're getting information that is better explained in text than in person, and is person.

For instance, someone recently sent these 2 pieces of advice to me:

Sit on lap – Take her hand and move it above her head so that she spins around. Then, when her back is towards you, sit her down on your lap and hug her from behind. . Kissing with release – There are many good techniques for kissing a girl. One would be to put on some flavored chapstick and say, “You know what the best part about chapstick is? Here, smell it”. Let her smell it and then continue, “It not only smells like strawberries, it actually tastes like strawberries too. Check it out”. And then you go in and kiss her.

Worst mode of transmission ever!

comment by tog · 2015-07-15T08:14:12.588Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People's expectation clock starts running from the time they hit send. More improtantly, deadlines related to the email content really sets the agenda for how often to check your email.

Then change people's expectations, including those of the deadlines appropriate for tasks communicated by emails that people may not see for a while! (Partly a tongue in cheek answer - I know this may no be feasible, and you make a fair point).

comment by [deleted] · 2015-07-15T13:05:36.583Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hehe. Someone called J* wants me to keep her posted when I start my internship. Her perception of my reliability may be consequential to my career in the future! So, I have reason to maintain that perception of punctuality. I have been invited to attend a fairly boring meeting tomorrow with somewhat important people attending, so it might make my life easier if I go and seek some economic rents. Then again I guess it's better to be hated, then love love loved for what you're not.