email & attention fragmentation

June 2, 2022

When do you first check email in the morning?

How often do you check it after that?

I tend to open up email when I open up my WordPress to write the morning’s blog post. By the time I am at that point in my AM routine I’ve already read & done Headspace’s daily (10 min) meditation, but not much else.

(Side note: I am currently reading A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine as my morning non-fiction pick. This is my first introduction to Stoicism and it’s interesting!)

I would like to check it . . . even less.

I don’t mind checking in at key points of the day. Sometimes getting to my email in a timely manner has benefits. BUT now that I have eliminated ‘the scroll’ from my life (really, eliminated! I simply don’t do it anymore and it is SO FREEING) sometimes I do feel I check email more than necessary as kind of substitute. And diving into that world frequently – with all of its open loops and such – is sort of silly and unnecessary. It does not result in productivity. It isn’t even particularly fun as I’m more likely to see something stressful in there vs something fun.

I have two emails that I check frequently: gmail (which combines all of my various gmail addresses via forwarding, including the one I share with Josh, the one for this blog, etc) + my work email, which is in outlook. Both tend to be checked probably 3x more frequently than necessary.

I think I am at a place where I can work on this. I don’t have a specific number of times I want to check daily; rather, I’d like to limit checks to a few key times of the day (opening of the day, mid-day, and end of day) OR when I’m ready to actually sit down and answer emails or process them, not just scan them anxiously.

Inbox zero 4eva

I do not plan on changing my inbox zero tendencies but obviously no inbox can stay at zero eternally unless you are sitting in it, which is not my goal. So I will try to continue weekly cleanouts – Sundays on my gmail and Fridays on my work email. Wish me luck!

what would be the Stoic take on email checks?

Also, wish me luck on my mammogram today. Fun . . . this is my 2nd time around though so at least I know what to expect. LOTS of waiting! I’m bringing my laptop to try to audit our June YNAB plus The Great Believers.


  • Reply Amy June 2, 2022 at 6:48 am

    I listened to William Irvine’s interview on the Hidden Brain podcast from January. It was so, so good — I listened to it twice. I think you’ll really like the book!

  • Reply Grateful Kae June 2, 2022 at 6:50 am

    I’ve had a bad habit for quite a while now of grabbing my phone (also my alarm) when it goes off, deciding I don’t want to get up QUITE yet, and then laying in bed for 10 minutes or so scrolling around on my phone. So, I check my email(s) almost immediately. 😬 On the plus side, I usually see your posts (and several others- especially one of my fav bloggers from the UK) in my email right around the time I wake up! (CST here).

    I check my email WAY too often. Many, many times per day. Why?? I don’t know. Distraction? Entertainment? Guess I have a low bar for entertainment, lol. My biggest issue with this is that when I check my email at random times (e.g. sitting in the car waiting to pick a kid up), and I see an important email (e.g. something I need to take care of- camp forms, a signup deadline, response needed type things, etc.), I’m not really in a position to do anything with it right then. Not at my desk, don’t have my planner, etc. So it’s easy for certain things to then sort of slip away, at least for several days until I really readdress my inbox…and some weeks I’m not religious about cleaning it out….. I’ve had a few important things get buried lately that I’m blaming on this bad habit.

  • Reply Omdg June 2, 2022 at 7:05 am

    I literally wake up, roll over, and check my email. Usually there isn’t much at 5:30 in the morning. By 8am I usually have around 10 emails that I have to respond to, and if I don’t, by 10am I will start bumping into people who ask me, “Did you see my email on X?” 🙄 Constant checking and response is a cultural expectation of where I work. This has its benefits, actually! My bosses generally respond… ever (there are exceptions), unlike the place from whence I came where I was once told that I should take longer to respond because responding the same day made people think I was 1) pathetic, and 2) that I didn’t have enough to do.

    Anyway… digression. In my case the scrolling is more of a problem than the email, but not sure what to do about it since I still do find useful info on social media that I really have no other way to obtain. Ah well.

  • Reply KerenKeren June 2, 2022 at 8:04 am

    You might want to read the original stoic philosopher’s books, Seneca is very approachable,I’ve read On the Shortness of life following a recommendation from Anne Bogel.
    This post has made me realize I definitely check my personal email too often, though I mostly get newsletters and adds and rarely any urgent things that require my response.
    I guess I use it as a break since I’m not on any social networks.
    I’m going to follow your advice and work on changing that.

  • Reply Alyce June 2, 2022 at 8:06 am

    I pine for my grad school days when I didn’t have internet at home and only checked my email once a day when I was on campus. I had a signature line that explained I only checked my email once a day between 12-1. The best thing about it was that, over time, I got less email because people learned it wasn’t the best way to reach me. Generally speaking, people adjust to your email behaviors. If you’re super responsive, you are expected to always be super responsive, which personally feels like a trap. If you’re not so responsive, people get used to and accept that too.

  • Reply Jessica June 2, 2022 at 8:23 am

    I am reading this waiting for my mammogram. I had a benign mass removed in November and it is a follow up. I am more nervous about it than I expected it to be, but the actual procedure no longer bothers me. I think I get the results before I leave so that helps too.

    I unfortunately look at my phone in bed while I try to wake up. I’m thinking of taking a break from that this summer and then see if I miss it.

  • Reply Erin June 2, 2022 at 9:23 am

    I just had my first mammogram last week! It was a better experience than I expected, I didn’t have much waiting and I got results the next day.

    I am an inbox zero person and badge notifications on my phone drive me nuts, so if I see that I have an email, I instantly check it. I also work at a desk job so I have BOTH email inboxes up all day (personal and work). My work inbox gets pretty distracting sometimes, but my personal one doesn’t get a ton of action. I do shut down my emails when I need to do focused work but I don’t do that as often as I should. It’s not really something that bothers me too much though!

    • Reply KGC June 2, 2022 at 11:20 am

      I’m also like this. Both work and personal emails open all the time. I tend to look at/deal with emails right away (including picking up my phone right after I wake up) but I don’t find that this bothers me that much so not sure it’s a habit I need to break? Looking at email really doesn’t stress me out so I kind of like having a lay of the land of what to work on, even if I end up dealing with it later rather than immediately. I do find that I can’t do paper-writing with email open – but closing it doesn’t seem to help either since I often have meetings that disrupt the day. I find that pulling some later nights (or even weekend time) works best for me for banging out some writing.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns June 2, 2022 at 9:36 am

    I had my first mammogram last October. I was expecting it to be awful and overall thought it was not bad. But I was towards the end of breast feeding and, well, there is a lot of unpleasantness with breastfeeding/pumping so I think I’m desensitized or something? I got my results very fast and they were clear. I had heard from others that mammograms were extremely painful so I am glad I walked away thinking it was not bad at all! I hope you get a clear scan!

    I check email after I’ve gotten the kids up, usually while the baby is in his high chair eating breakfast. My kids are my alarm since one or both is up around 5:30, sometimes earlier. Sob. I try not to read work email outside of work hours because nothing is THAT urgent in the financial services world. Our email is extremely locked down since I’m regulated by the SEC, so I can only read it through my work ap and I shut off notifications for it. But I look at my gmail A LOT. Like you, I’m not on social media so looking at my email is probably a filler. But I really enjoy reading blog comments so it’s a happiness boost to read emails on days when I post on my blog. I am definitely NOT inbox 0 and never will be. But I find it easier to search for things with everything in my inbox, especially at work!

  • Reply LN June 2, 2022 at 9:36 am

    I get push notifications for my work email (I don’t prefer it but it is a function of my job) so I usually read those notifications first thing and then decide whether to actually open them ASAP or post-coffee, which I prefer.

    On the bright side, I am way closer to Inbox Zero with work because I have to process almost everything that comes in in a timely manner. Not so with my personal email which I definitely check too much, while also letting it pile up.

  • Reply Diana June 2, 2022 at 11:29 am

    Lots of thoughts here!
    I am helping a client with this right now. I gave her some steps for email processing and now we’re batching texts/emails to be read and processed 3 times a day. The night before I set 3 alarms on my phone for the 3 times I want to check my email the next day (labeled email/texts). I am not prefect but setting the intention has helped. And it’s nice because I can process them immediately 🙂 the beauty of email and texts is supposed to be that we can respond at our leisure but society has gotten away form that. I’ve trained my friends to know that I don’t check texts and emails often and if it’s urgent they should call.

    • Reply Amy June 2, 2022 at 11:41 am

      Oh, that’s a neat idea — setting a periodic alarm. I’m a compulsive email checker who doesn’t really experience it as a source of stress, but establishing firmer boundaries would prevent me from constantly picking up my phone.

  • Reply Elisabeth June 2, 2022 at 7:41 pm

    I am definitely an Inbox Zero enthusiast, but obviously it never stays there. I have three accounts that feed into Outlook (2 for work, 1 personal) and then I have two others (1 work + another personal). It’s a lot to manage, but it seems to work okay. I check my e-mail first thing; the number of times varies each day. Sometimes my work requires me to be on e-mail A LOT in a day, and I give myself a pass for that. Overall I don’t think checking e-mail is a big issue for me?
    My biggest suggestion is to UNSUBSCRIBE from things. I aim to have only e-mails I want to receive/need to receive coming through. I belong to almost no mailing lists and think this is key to keeping my inbox at a reasonable level.
    I check my e-mail first thing, along with texts and blog comments. I turn my phone off completely at night, and don’t feel guilty about spending 10 minutes lounging in bed catching up on correspondence since I’ve done a few things lately to dramatically reduce the amount of time I spend on my phone during the day. Clearing things out first-thing really clears my headspace.

  • Reply Katie G June 2, 2022 at 11:28 pm

    Such a different world than mine on many levels… one, I’m a transactional attorney, so. maybe 3x/day possible except, no. Four minimum. Clients freak out. But then, I have to have time and space to think and work. So often in the afternoon I don’t look but then expect to have my inbox screaming at me when I look. Second, I’m a night owl and on my phone now but won’t let myself look at emails. But also A TERRIBLE morning person who sets eleventy million alarms so looking at my email first thing ITS A GOOD THING so that I take 15 min to get out of bed (when 5 min was intended) rather than, over an hour- if there is screaming in my inbox. Finally my non (or maybe barely?) top 100 metro market is amazing for imaging, like less than 10 min wait and results uploaded same day. For my first I had dx duct ecstasia but also you could see it, it was blue, and man that was random. Great surgeon got it right out with incision scar right in line with where it should be so not at all visible. Good luck and remember, Don’t Be A Lawyer, tell your kids and pass it on lol. Episode idea- should you give Rachel’s advice to your kids and what is Laura’s perspective

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 3, 2022 at 5:33 am

      Which Rachel, Katie? And lol on Don’t Be a Lawyer; I read LagLiv’s blog and often think “maybe I should have been a lawyer”. Ha!

  • Reply Helena Murphy June 3, 2022 at 12:44 am

    I wouldn’t even want to find out how many times a day I check email! The great majority of my assignment offers come in by email and maybe 10% through phone calls or text (urgent ones). So I have a legitimate reason to check often since promptness is extremely important for assigning officers to set up teams. If you’re known to respond quickly, you also get more jobs on short-notice. So I have massive incentive to scan my inbox for offers and respond right away. I also receive all assignment-related docs through email (contracts to sign, materials to study, instructions on how to access a building or Zoom links) so I try to stay on top of this whack a mole game by replying super fast, foldering links and docs, requesting missing info. It’s never-ending but I happily accept it as part of my job as a freelance interpreter. I end up combining a digital and paper tracking/planning system not to let anything fall through the cracks. This blog and BLP have helped me continuously tweak the system (love the tweaking part!).

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger June 3, 2022 at 5:32 am

      Definitely makes sense that your usage would be different!!!

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