Here's What Happens When You Stop Checking Email Every Day

The inbox can be tamed!

I recently emailed my friend Kim Kaupe. When she replied a few days later, I noticed this at the bottom of her email signature:

NOTE: I check my email every other day and try to respond to messages within 1-2 business days. If there is something that is urgent, contact my assistant at [assistant’s email address].

I wrote back immediately, asking if this was true. How could it be!? How does she function, as a successful entrepreneur, without constant email monitoring!?!? I mean, I check my email every few minutes.

Kim (eventually) wrote back to say yes, this is a new thing she’s trying. Like most people, she said, she’d become too attached to her email — checking it regularly, always afraid of what she was missing. That distracted her from larger, deeper work.

Then she realized there was an even bigger problem: Because she was replying to emails constantly, she was training other people to expect quick replies! After all, if you’re always available, people will always assume you're available. It is a vicious cycle.

So she made a change: She started weaning herself off of regular email checks. Now people can email her assistant if they need something — or if it’s an emergency, and a client really needs to reach her, they can text her.

Here’s the crazy thing: People barely texted.

“It seemed that somewhere along the way, people started solving problems without me,” she wrote in Entrepreneur, after I asked her to write down her findings. “Or, better yet, they thought long and hard about whether what they were facing should be categorized as an emergency.”

I really recommend reading her whole essay, by the way. It’s fascinating.

In short: Kim was retraining people. If she wasn’t always available, people didn’t expect her to be always available. As it turns out, most things could wait. And now she could actually do the work she’d been hired to do, rather than return a bunch of emails that distract her from that work.

After hearing this from Kim, I started looking around on Entrepreneur to see how other people managed their emails. What other experiments had people tried? How can this madness be tamed?

The answers were illuminating.

Here are three I loved:

1. Outbound before inbound

Jennie Ripps, founder and CEO of Owl’s Brew, told us that she divides her day up by tasks — including what kind of email function she’s doing.

“For instance, I'll spend an hour before the workday sending out emails, and I won't look at incoming emails until everything is completely outbound,” she said. “I find that I focus more when I do only one thing and not a million things; it cuts down on the noise.”

2. No email on the phone

Many years ago, Barbara Corcoran told us that she took email off her phone.

“So rather than looking at God knows how many I got in a day — all very important of course, until I realized none of it was important — I probably went from maybe 150 emails to none,” she said. “I bought myself a lot of time. I feel so much better. I actually [have time to] reflect after I've had a meeting or conversation now.”

3. Create non-personal email addresses

The author Cal Newport once put his email address on his website. But he got so many messages, it was impossible to keep up with them. He wanted to remain reachable, but how could he cut down on the inflow?

Then it hit him: The problem was that people had his personal email address. “When you think you’re interacting with an individual,” he wrote, “it’s natural to assume they’ll be reasonable enough to read your long story and offer detailed advice, or set up a call to talk about your business opportunity, or connect you to relevant people in their network.”

So he made a change. He eliminated his personal address, and replaced it with multiple nonpersonal addresses. One of them, for example, is [email protected], where people can send him interesting links or leads. And he includes a disclaimer with these addresses, saying that he’s not usually able to respond.

“In my experience, if you put such a disclaimer next to a personalized address, like [email protected], it will be widely disregarded, as our expectations for one-on-one interactions are so strong,” he writes. “But when the disclaimer appends a nonpersonal address, like [email protected], I receive few complaints. Without preconceived expectations, you’re able to set them from scratch.”

So, what have I learned from all this? Two important things:

  1. As soon as I’m past my book launch (it’s next week!), and my inbox stops being an insane madhouse of requests and needs, I must find a way to step back and reassess.

2. It is possible. I simply need to try something and see what happens!

Just because you have an inbox, you do not need to check it all the time.

Listen Closely to What People Ask You

Here's What Happens When You Stop Checking Email Every Day

How can you "disrupt yourself"? You can start by listening hard to the questions people ask you — and then figure out if you're really fulfilling people's expectations.

I had a fantastic podcast conversation about this, and so much more, with innovation and disruption theorist Whitney Johnson. You'll want to hear it, so click here!

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Cover credit: Getty Images / Klaus Vedfelt