How I Stay on Top of Email in 33 Minutes a Day

Most of us receive far more email than we want, and certainly more than we need. Many people spend hours each day answering or reading email. Many more feel the weight of guilt about the hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of unanswered emails sitting in their inbox.

Boss has received many email from job candidate

A few years ago, my wife and I traveled to the UK. While we were there, I had limited access to the Internet, especially while we were in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was basically limited to the half-hour I had each morning in a small Internet café. It was there that I learned it was possible to deal with email in 30 minutes a day.

I currently budget 33 minutes each day to deal with business email. You can easily do the same.In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess I only stick to this limit about 70 to 80% of the time.

And I will also let you know that personal, family email is a different matter. Although I don’t spend a lot of time on email on the whole, I take extra time to craft a meaningful exchange family and friends. Frankly, though, I usually try to move those discussions to the telephone.

But yes, I do handle my business email in just 33 minutes a day. Here’s how I do it.

  1. I don’t check email first thing in the morning. Checking your email first thing each day is a great way to derail your agenda, and spend the day chasing the agendas of other people. Don’t do it.
  2. I check email just once a day. When I first started implementing this policy, I was a bit fearful that it would cause problems. I have since discovered that the world does not come crashing down simply because I didn’t check email until 11 AM. By the way, I have experimented with different times of the day for checking my business email I have found that 11 AM Pacific time is just about ideal for me. That way I can catch any emails from my colleagues and clients on the East Coast, and am able to respond to those emails the same day if necessary. This means the recipient gets my response before 5 PM Eastern time.
  3. I keep emails short. My friend Stu McLaren keeps his emails to five sentences or less. While I don’t have a formal policy like that, I do strive for that level of brevity. So far, nobody has written back to me asking me if I would please write longer emails. Now, some emails are long by design – but here we are talking about daily business transactional emails. Keep ‘em short.
  4. I use a digital timer. You’re probably tired of hearing me talk about my digital timer by now, but nothing gets me motivated to work quickly more than a ticking clock. I set my timer for 33 minutes, and then I get cranking.
  5. I use the delete key liberally. Try it. You’ll like it. Not all email deserves to be read. Certainly not all of it deserves a response. If I goof up and delete something I shouldn’t have, if it’s important someone will email it to me again.

Question: what about you? What tips do you have that speed the task of processing your email each day?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thanks again Ray, this particular truth has changed my life – I get hundreds of emails a day sometimes and I’m down to 45mins… unfortunately some of my emails require real in depth responses. That is where I’m combining some of the “Work the System” concepts and I’m creating an FAQ section in Evernote to answer the main questions I get that require big answers. This way I just need to slightly personalise an already crafted email.

  • Great tip Ray. I’ve experimented with many productivity tips over the years. And I consider my email process a “keystone habit” because it impacts so many other parts of my business and life. Like you, I no longer check email first thing in the morning. And my goal is to only check email 1-2 times per day. To support this habit I’ve found a couple things helpful:

    1. I use to track my time. Every time I open my inbox I start my “email” timer. Then I can compare my “actual” to my “budgeted” time for email.

    2. I disabled email notifications on my laptop and phone. I no longer have to resist the temptation to find out what that new email message is.

    This habit allows me to focus on my Most Important Tasks… Not to mention, I just feel “uber-productive” which is a great feeling. 🙂