3 Strategies to Stop Checking Email in the Morning

What Not To Do

Time to wake up! The light is peering through the window, and I'm feeling awake enough to start my day. I roll over, grab my phone to check the time, and immediately get sucked into a vortex of information: Email notifications crowd my lock screen in addition to Twitter, News, Instagram, and a number of other apps that have all blasted my phone while I slept and had my phone in DND mode.

My clean slate of a morning suddenly becomes one where I already feel behind-- I have to check all of these notifications and clear them, and process them. I see an email from a customer, and my heart jumps a little bit -- is there a bug or crash I didn't know about? What support issue do I need to solve? There's some other bit of news from something happening in the world-- presumably something terrible, because good news is rarely blasted out (unfortunately). My whole morning now is consumed by all this data, and it happened in the first 30 seconds.

It's one of the worst ways to start your day, and it's how I used to start my every day.

There are some great benefits to 'alone' time in the morning, and saving that phone checking for later. Even if you wait 15 or 30 minutes, you'd be amazed at what a difference it can make.

Create a Calm Morning Instead

For me, my mornings have become a ritualistic time to wake up and think about my day ahead. I have a dog, so one of the very first things I do is go on a short 5 minute walk with him, then give him his breakfast. Then it's breakfast and coffee time for me. Only at that point, do I allow myself to read anything on a screen-- usually blogs I enjoy (and generally 'positive' blogs--like tech blogs or zenhabits.net). I still try to avoid email or clearing any notifications. Those will remain there even if I don't check them now!

Then it's time to take the dog on a walk, so we head out for 30 to 45 minutes. I usually put on a podcast while I'm out with him, so I'm listening and learning some cool and interesting things. Only when I come back after this time do I sit down at my desk and go into processing mode-- going through email, my notifications, etc. I'm awake, unhurried, and in a state to go through everything with a clear and relaxed mind.

The day starts when I've had something to eat, and when I've had some time to settle into myself. Starting with a clear headspace is so important for being productive. I set that rhythm for the day, processing things in a clear and ordered manner. It doesn't flip my brain into that 'red state', where everything seems like an emergency and I am simply putting out fires all day long.

When you consider the evolutionary history of human beings, we really haven't experienced anything like what we have today: unlimited and instant access to tons of data. We love to consume all that information because our brains are programmed to want it. Evolutionary, information might be the difference between surviving or not--mostly because information was hard to come by. Our 'world' back then was really just the village we lived in, and not much more. News had to be manually delivered. In contrast, our world today is universal and growing fast. We receive instant updates from what's happening on the other side of the world, and can even have images beamed back to us from Pluto. As a result, all that information can scatter your thinking and make you frenzied and worried all day long as your brain struggles to keep up.

If you're interested in trying out a slower morning, here are three relatively easy strategies to take back your morning!

1. Turn off lock screen notifications and badge icons!

I turned off nearly every lock screen notification, and basically all badge icons. That red number is killer for productivity-- it's amazingly distracting, and it's like having a present delivered on your desk. Your brain is dying to tap on the icon to see what it holds inside.

I instead opted in for some "notification center" notifications-- so that I still can see what came in, but I have to purposefully go into the notification center to read them. Even then, I've curated the list down to what actually matters to me and what I wouldn't want to miss.

2. Make it harder to find and open your email app.

I stuffed my email apps in a folder called "utilities" on the 2nd folder page, on the 3rd home screen page. This way email is never immediately available to just tap, and I have to either pull down to search for it and open it, or swipe and tap my way into it. It's based off a principle I read in Happiness Advantage known as the 20 second rule. If you want to decrease a bad habit, make it '20 seconds harder' to get to. By removing email from the dock, and shoving it deep in an app folder, it's that much more work to go check it.

This is possibly overkill, but I went one step further:

3. Use a separate email client for each email address you have.

I kept my Mail app just for my personal and 'fun' email-- nothing work related ever gets delivered here. This way if I'm dying to check for mail from a friend or family member, I can tap into Mail and see it there without risk of being sucked into a work related thing.

For work email, I use Google Inbox and CloudMagic for each of my work accounts. In this way, it makes it even harder to check all my email in 1 fell swoop. I have to really set the intention to check and clear email--it works really well for me. It also helps declutter my inbox and organize things mentally. Work emails have no business existing with my friends and family!

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Thanks, and have a wonderful and productive day! 😀