How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… And Have Your Boss Accept It

Think your boss won’t go for an email autoresponder?

You’d be surprised. Here is one example from a SXSW attendee. His two e-mail to me have been combined with a bit of editing for length.

Hey Tim,

Here’s what i took away from your presentation (and put into action!):

I sent out an email to everyone in my division letting them know i’ll only be checking email at 11a & 4p. I’ve included my email down below:

“Hi all…

In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency I am beginning a new personal email policy. I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through my inbox and less time focused on the task at hand. It has become an unnecessary distraction that ultimately creates longer lead times on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

Going forward I will only be checking/responding to email at 11a and 4p on weekdays. I will try and respond to email in a timely manner without neglecting the needs of our clients and brand identity.

If you need an immediate time-sensitive response… please don’t hesitate to call me. Phones are more fun anyways.

Hopefully this new approach to email management will result in shorter lead times with more focused & creative work on my part. Cheers & here’s to life outside of my inbox! “

So far the response has been very receptive and supportive. Here’s the quick “reply to all” email response i got from our senior operations manager (he oversees 5 radio stations. and most of the people in the building):

“Tim,

AWESOME time management approach!!! I would love to see more people adopt that policy.

-C.”

I’m sticking to it and it’s making my days more productive already. As the days are progressing, more people are “on the bus” with respecting my new email policy and i havent had any snags (even with SXSW going on – and i work in Austin radio, so we’re all swamped this week). However, every single person feels like it just wouldn’t work for them if they did it. (“oh, but i’m on too many mailing lists” or “All i do is work in my email box, i have to.” i’m sure you’ve heard it all before).

As far as your presentation… A major thing i took away is applying the concept of 80/20 to my workflow. I’ve always known i waste a great deal of time on things that ultimately aren’t showing the bulk of my ROI. Hearing you present it in a new light enabled me to start actively weeding out the time wasting clients & processes. I do a lot of work that our interns should be doing. So i’ve begun designating responsibility appropriately, thus freeing up my plate for the more relevant tasks. It will be a slow process, but senior management is on the same page with me.

Cheers,

Tim Duke

KROX & KBPA – Interactive Brand Manager

Here is a shorter autoresponder another attendee successfully implemented:

Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!

-Tom

My personal e-mail autoresponder limits me to once per day and indicates “I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell.” My business e-mail autoresponder, on the other hand, gives me the option to check email once every 7-10 days.

The real hard part, of course, is keeping yourself away from that damn inbox. Get on a strict low-information diet and focus on output instead of input; your wallet and weekends will thank you for it.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 400 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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203 Replies to “How to Check E-mail Twice a Day… And Have Your Boss Accept It”

  1. I’m halfway through your book. I read this…I spend at least 3-4 hours a day checking and responding to e-mails (and I have a sophisticated outsourced spam blocker). That is……until tomorrow (it’s now Sunday!!). Thank you for the freedom suggestion :o)

  2. To send a automated response to every (spam) email will only result in more spam!

    I’m sure people realize that business people WILL respons as soon as they can! Why send that email?

  3. Just found this from a friend that has read your book and is truly implementing the checking of emails twice a day. I asked if he’d explain it, but he just pointed me to this post…LOL

    Picking up the book and I GOTTA implement a lot of some of these strategies!!

    Thanks tim!

  4. Yes this is awesome because i receive 50-100 eamis a day and it is a bad habit to keep checking. Nothing is ever that important and 11 and 4 is just fine. It is all habits and i am determined to change because life needs to be lived out and not worked out.

    Great idea. Thanks.

  5. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for sharing your great ideas.

    However, I’d like to mention some aspects that I think need to be taken into account in customer service interaction.

    1. First of all, your own issues and problems with productivity, time management or whatsoever should NOT become a customer’s problem or concern.

    2. With customer you should only share information that concerns that customer in some way, otherwise, your behaviour is unprofessional.

    Therefore…

    If you decided to make a personal email policy, then it’s your personal business, not your clients’ business. So there’s no need to send the whole essay about your ‘great time management skills’ as a reply to your client’s email.

    You talk about cutting your information intake, so do the customers. In the first example that you provide ” I’ve recently realized I spend more time shuffling through…”, if the customer receives such an email, it will take him/her a few minutes to read/get annoyed, and not ask you for anything in the future, or better he/she will simply ignore it as it’s not worth spending time. What’s the use of telling your clients what you eat for breakfast or how you brush your teeth? Do you think they should bother? Definitiely Not

    What I suggest is cutting your replies to short answers including only required information without enthusiastic notes on making the world better.

    An example of such an auto-reply would be:

    ” Thank you for your email,

    We will answer your questions between 1 and 4 p.m on weekdays.

    We appreciate your taking time to contact us.”

    Kind Regards,

    Efim.

  6. Sounds like to me, you have just made yourself into a slave. Now, no matter what else you may need to plan, you have setup an expectation that you read AND RESPOND to emails at set times each day.

    If you have a Dr’s appt, better make sure it isn’t at 11 or 4.

    If you REALLY want to become more efficient, try NOT using your telephone. Email is MUCH faster, better and cheaper, plus gives you a record of the conversation.

    I have a personal policy of not using voicemail. I will not leave anyone a message on voicemail and I never have voice mail in my company offices. Ify you want to be more effecient, drop this voicemail addiction and us systems that queue up callers on hold so that 20% of your office time isn’t spent listening to voicemail, noting instructions, phone numbers and the like, and then calling someone back; just to get THEIR VOICEMAIL.

    Or better yet, become ultra effecient and quit wasting your time with stupid blogs that eat up your time.

    Take a TOTAL INTERNET break, if you can, and that would be impressive.

  7. For the email I mentioned in my above comment, you can use the subject lines:

    ” Your email to [CompanyName] ” for external communications and

    ” Your email to [DepartmentName] ” for internal communications.

    There are lots others though, ask me for more.

    Regards,

    Efim

  8. Tim:

    I’ve been trying this out and I have to tell you I have not had a single person even call me with an emergerncy yet, They all wait. I did have one confused Realtor (surprise) who sent me junk mail every day and t hen couldn’t seem to get why he was getting the same message 10 times a day. lol.

    I also had an attorney who told me I should can the auto-responder as it is obnoxious and seems as if I feel too self important. (trust me, the pot is definitely calling the kettle black).

    All and all, a great experience although I find that I still CHECK my mail too often even though I don’t have to. The addiction doesn’t wear off too easy.

    One last tip, if you do respond to your email at any other time people WILL ignore your auto-responder because you ignored it. DOI NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE!! (trust me)

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  9. Came to the realisation that I was spending too much time in the inbox a while back but hadn’t thought about setting up an autoresponder to let people know I’m now only checking emails once a day. Great idea and much more polite than not letting people know 🙂

  10. The discipline part is where I struggle. There are times I check email 4-5 times a day. There is just too much important information coming back to me that I have to get to.

    Tim Do you outsource this task to a V.A who can then filter out the very important emails to the ones that are low priority and have them brief you on which ones to need immediate attention? I was thinking of doing this for the future.

  11. Have only discovered Tim but boy am I glad.

    It was only after I read this site and watched “Fireside Chat with Tim Ferriss” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8fyIhsvjhc that I realised how much email was in control of my work life and the impact it was having on my personal life. Since I got an iPhone with its mail push function it has been, on reflection, out of control.

    Up until 2 days ago I checking my mail at 6 am when I got up, reading it while having breakfast with my 1 year old son, refreshing it constantly as I walked to the train station, replying to mails while on the train only stopping when it went underground – and that was before I went into work! So in effect I was using email 2 hrs before I even got into the office. When I got home I was bathing the kids, again while accessing mails, I even was access them will reading the kids there bedtime story – madness I know but it is amazing how you don’t notice these things if they become habit.

    Anyway here what I have done and even after just 2 days I feel like a massive load of my shoulders

    iPhone – I disabled both my work and gmail accounts on my iphone. So that I won’t cheat I got my wife to change the passwords on both accounts – therefore even if I tried to set them up again I couldn’t without getting the passwords from her – as she will not release them believe me!

    I then moved my mail app icon to the last page of my apps – completely out of the way with all the other useless free apps I have downloaded.

    While I was at it, I moved the 3 news sites apps I was also reading nearly every 5 minutes to the last page of my apps – I now realise that I don’t need the latest news every 5 minutes. Once a day is more than enough.

    I have also added the following auto responder to both work and personal emails

    Thank you for your email! In an effort to spend as much non work time with my kids as possible I have begun a new personal and business email policy. As such I am only checking mails at 12pm AET on weekdays. If you need anything immediately please call me on my mobile, it will be good to chat with you. Thank you and have a great day!

  12. Dear all,

    I am happy to read this book and I had implemented most things written in books and am helping all my clients to achieve such life style using my mobile based erp software called Mobileerp.net

    Checking emails once a day may not be practical idea but replying fast thru blackberry whenever u are free or comfirtable will be good idea.

    I check my emails mostly in travelling or when I am watching tv or free. If important I reply else forward to my VA.

  13. Great to read this but take in mind that reading and deleting auto responders takes tremendous amounts of time on yearly base. Email is not a telephone so an answer may take some time. It is much better to reply after one day with a complete answer than after an hour with an email you will reply tomorrow. Effective emailing starts with stopping to use auto responders unless you are away for more than 2 days.

    Switch of voice mail!

    Than also take in consideration an other time waster that is voice mail as you call someone to speak to him if he does not answer you can send an email or try to call back later, no you can’t because cash you connected to a voice mail

    Voice mail is just a great money collector for telephone company’s 3 times cashing for 1 message: 1 call speak in voice mail, 2 listen to the voice mail, 3 call back and if your lucky you reach him otherwise the whole thing starts over again.

    Happy running, Myckel

  14. I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  15. Hi,

    Does anyone know how to create an autoresponder in Apple Mail (Tiger) and MS Outlook 2003 (Windows), that can be limited to be send only once every 4 days or let’s say a week to the same recipient, is customizable (text and title, so not with the default “Out-of-office” title) and is running/working even when the computer (client) is is powered off???

    I’ve been searching for hours and still haven’t found the solution. :((

    Your help is very much appreciated!!

    Greetz,

    Vincent

  16. One thing that’s reduced inbox clutter for me is unsubscribing from useless newsletters. I repair computers for a living, so a ziff-davis email saying “Join us for this executive roundtable on enterprise security” is useless to me. I never removing myself from these lists until I started digesting what’s in The Four Hour Workweek.

  17. Nobody knows the answer to the question I askes earlier?!? Not even you Tim?? Or are you busy dancing and scooba diving? 😉

    If you’re back and by accident see my messages. I need your help! 😀

  18. I’ve given this a try in the last 2 weeks. Here are some of my thoughts.

    1. I already have my productivity systems like GTD in place so this works well in them, I even had a few people asking about it. Thing is, I realize I much prefer getting emails then I do phone calls. So what can I do about the “If you need an immediate time-sensitive response, please don’t hesitate to call me XXXXXXXX so that I can address this important matter with you.” I don’t want phone calls!

    2. I thought of putting “send me a text message at XXXX XXXX” which is better, but I prefer emails instead of text messages and I tend to note them and then leave them…

    Or are we suggesting here than most won’t be sending/calling me anyway? Then what do we do about those ppl who consider their issue important but arn’t really high on my priority? I still don’t want their calls!

    Am I being to demanding?

  19. “If you don’t yet use Twitter, don’t start. It’s pointless e-mail on steroids.”

    I read that line and then, on the same page saw the link “Follow Tim on Twitter”.

    How can that be? Is Tim starting to ignore his own advice?

  20. Hello,

    Is there a tutorial on how to setup outlook to only check e-mails twice a day? I can’t seem to figure it out. I am so excited to try this technique at work. My day seems to be bogged down by e-mails and I can’t wait to feel ‘free’ again. Only a quarter of the way through the book and this is becoming a life-changing experience. This is totally against the methods that I was tought in business school. Can’t wait to get outside the box where I feel most comfortable 🙂 Thanks so much for this amazing read.

    Kind regards,

    Nick

  21. My entire network has been out of control (email, twitter, rss, etc) and I’ve been reading a ton of articles to get some ideas.

    I really like this idea, and I actually set it up tonight. I’m really hoping this will be a life changing step for me. We are about to have our first child and I want to change some of my habits before he arrives. I have an ipad, iphone, macbook air, imac, and they are all beeping, chirping, or notifying me of something that it wants me to attend to. It’s become out of control.

    The google reader is another one for me that is hard to break. I check it all day, all the time, and I end up starring tons of “stuff’ so that I develop a back pile of “starred” items I feel I can’t ever get caught up on (as if the info really means anything…..ha,ha). It is going to be so hard to go from getting a message in “real time” to only a few times a day, I really hope I can do it.

    I have also found that my use of technology has caused me to set unrealistic expectations of other people (I think that everyone should ping me back as soon as they get my email. I want “real time) but many people don’t communicate like that, and I don’t want to set the expectation that they have to. People often say, “Not everyone is attached at the hip to all of those devices. ”

    I also want to be present where I am. I don’t want to think I always have to be checking rss, email, twitter, facebook, etc all the time. Many times I just want to watch a movie with my wife, or go to dinner without checking all my “pings’ non-stop. It’s simply not healthy. I hope your advice will help!

    I’d be interested to hear any feedback you have on controlling the urge for “information.” Seriously google reader is like the black hole of information that actually has zero importance, but I feel like I’ll be so out of touch if I don’t read my feeds. Another struggle is that by the time I read all my feeds, and click refresh, they have all updated again, so it’s like a black hole. Not good.

    Thanks again for this advice!

  22. My opinion is that the first step to successfully reducing the number of times you check your email is to put your “self” in check. You must remove the stress and anxiety from your life and be willing to release some control over the social messages we all receive on a daily basis. Once you accept relinquishing control then you can establish a consistent routine of returning emails at set time intervals. Hope this advice resonates with some people out there!

  23. hey Tim, great book, enjoyed the article, mentioned it in my post today on the Sync Blog (Canada’s # Technology Blog) in reference to a new app for Gmail called courteous.ly, the auto-reply works way better.

    Cheers

  24. Given my current type of work, I need to implement this policy for myself. I won’t set an auto-reply but will let know my boss about this attempt, so that at least he knows if there is anything urgent he can always skype me.

    I use online gmail for work, and many of my documents are in the email, so I am exposed to the browser the whole day. So blocking the site (i.e keepmeout.com won’t work in this case). Any tools to aid discipline the checking inbox? Maybe a schedule reminder?

  25. To check the mail twice a day is not a big deal. We can easily do it by maintaining our busy schedule. The best way is that you must check your mails as soon as you sign in to office and at that time you should only go for checking your business related mail. And at home when you are done with your supper, then you can check your friends and family member’s mails. according to me this is the proper way to check your mail twice a day.

  26. I work as a Customer Service Manager/Cube Monkey, and tried this immediately after reading the chapter in 4HWW.

    Within 48 hours our CFO said “That is horrible customer service” nixed it. Pretty sweet huh? So I created a LinkedIn poll to show how unoffensive it was. Received 100% support from the poll.

    Cheers,

    Nathan MF Crooks

    You know what the MF stands for.

    1. French it company atos banned email internally (not externally). It really is inefficient when information could be shared via knowledge management (wiki, sharepoint, other social tools that would fit the situation).

  27. So tell me, of those of you who moan about Tim’s ‘method’ of clearing your life of the email checking addiction, how many of you that disagree are living the life Tim is? Hmmmmm? Remember the 80’s any of you?, there WAS life before computers and even mobile phones diseased our lives and sanity. People used to call the landline ‘when it was important’ and if not, they sent ‘snail mail’ and expected a response some time in the not too far away future. Business still went on, people made money, the pace was fast but controllable, we had answering machines for the landline when we were too busy to answer the phone right? People didn’t complain then and why should they now. Seems all of you that are having trouble (listen to yourselves will you???? really!) have no life goals during email reading time as it is ALL IMPORTANT. Tim, great advice mate, I guess you are on a beach somewhere, I’ll expect a response to this some time in the next month. Relax people, night will come, eventually (as emails will be read, eventually.) Cheers all, Aussie David.

  28. I love this idea and am starting straight away.

    As a newbie copywriter, self-employed for the first time, I really want to instil best practice from the beginning. I’m so guilty of checking over and over for replies to bids for work and it’s just this drip-drip of constant distraction tinged with disappointment – Does not make for a good creative flow!

  29. I use Outlook 2007. I am trying to figure out a way to have emails that I receive “released” at certain times. For example, check for e-mails at 7am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Meanwhile, I would like e-mail that I send to go out immediately. Additionally, I would like e-mails that come from specific people (such as my boss) to come through immediately.

    I think this would help in not being such a slave to e-mails – but I am not sure if Outlook has the functionality to do this.

    Thoughts? Thanks.

    1. It’s going to be a combination of self-discipline – you literally shutting down your Outlook program unless and until you need to SEND an email, and you using a product called AwayFind http://awayfind.com/ that allows you to specify special alerts from domains, important addresses etc. – in essence create a White List.

    2. Just set the send and recieve advanced option in Outlook to only send every n minutes, up to 9999 :), or if you go with the twice a day option every 200 minutes.

  30. I also use outlook 2007 for all my emails and it is amazing how much email comes through. I will look into adding an autoresponder and see how that goes. I love the idea of checking email twice a day, but it is hard to adhere to it.

  31. I had to adopt a more passive-aggressive approach because my employer was a startup (we were just acquired by a large computer company, so that attitude will have to change) and there is still a premium placed on heroics (i.e., “Drop everything and do it now!”).

    I’m a software engineer with a lot of my own work to do, but I also handle some escalation cases, and it torques me off when I get a case and then the support engineer wants to schedule a GoToMeeting for the same day: “I’ve got the customer on the phone, can you look at it now?”

    I’ve managed to train people to use Exchange for scheduling meetings, and at the start of every day, I put in a big 12-hour private appointment: this results in my schedule being booked solid for the day.

    This way, if someone wants to schedule a meeting, it has to be tomorrow.

    So far, it’s working well: I don’t get dropped into a support issue without sufficient time to read the case and get caught up on the issue.

  32. Hi Tim, I love your approach towards email. I have tried your approach now for three weeks (checking mail once per day @ 11pm). My self discipline is starting to work out. The reactions from my colleagues vary a lot however. Most are positive. Especially in the first week. Now I have some colleagues that are starting to get really pissed off because of my auto-response and are steering towards a conflict situation if I do not turn it off. Do you have any suggestions in addition to the suggestion in your book to offer to help to create a mail rule for them?

    1. Apply Tim’s 80/20 rule i,e if 80% of your colleagues are supportive of you new approach to time management concentrate maintaining effective relationships with them. As for the other 20% certainly don’t cc them into anything to avoid the commencement of a new email trail.

  33. I am currently investigating which email triage strategy is more efficient and satisfying for users out of continuously checking email or only checking them once or twice a day as my final year psychology dissertation.

    Does anybody know of any scientific publications, websites or anything else concerning either this or the effectiveness of other email management strategies? At the moment I am struggling to find anything more than a few articles that are only somewhat related and any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Also if anybody would be intersted in participating in my study let me know and I can provide further details, if not sorry for the spam/self promotion.

    1. Hi Adam –

      I write about the topic you’re doing your dissertation on (and similar issues). You can reach me at adam at digitalminimalism dot com

      Best,

      Adam

  34. I’m a third year psychology student and for my dissertation I am conducting a study investigating the effect of different email strategies on productivity, including testing a strategy somewhat related to the one discussed in this article.

    Sorry about this self promotion but I thought this could be mutually beneficial as the results of your email efficiency with different strategies will be made available to you.

    If you are interested and want some more information let me know.

  35. Hi Tim,

    I just finished reading the 4-Hour Workweek, and I wanted to thank you. The book is brilliant, and the concepts resonate with me. I had already been heading down this path before I found your book, but once I read it, it just solidified everything and reassured me that what I was doing was right.

    I’ve been also working towards much better email efficiency.

    Thanks again,

    Brad

  36. Depending on where we work, what kind of work we have, or whether we work at all (maybe some of us are students), we’ve got to adjust the idea to our lifestyle. Some people have decided to remove internet from their homes altogether (I’ve tried that), some people try to set limits to internet or computer use through “SelfRestraint” softwares. Others create email checking frequency policies. Other’s work is AT computer, checking and answering e-mails. To each their own. I think it’s about experimenting and finding what suits your work ethic, personality, and productivity needs. Let’s keep firing the ideas.

  37. Yes, Tim, we used to be able to get lots of work done before email!

    I try NOT to respond immediately to every email because otherwise that tells the person I will respond within seconds and then they send more. And on and on and…..

    I do scan the subjects every hour to see what emails have come in and I delete spam beforehand to make less clutter. When I do carve out time to read them I make sure I print out the more detailed and respond appropriately after I clear out all of the unimportant, less needy emails.

    Also, I have found people will put more information in initial emails if they know I only read email occasionally. Unfortunately, there are email letter “bombs” where someone is demanding I contact them right away and they are disappointed when I don’t react within minutes of receipt.

    Yes, we used to get more done before emails…..but we had less information.

  38. A good auto responder a colleague used coming back to work after two weeks on holidays was “I will be too busy to read all the emails left after two weeks away (approx 400) so therefore I will delete them all. Anything that is very important and not been sorted out in the meantime please resend your email”

    Excellent!

  39. This is a great approach to take, and well worth the effort to set up and do a bit of “tuning.”

    I’ve been trying this rule for about a month and reckon it saves me 30 mins to 1 hour in “less emails” per day, and 10 – 20% increase in productivity through staying in flow.

    I’ve expanded on this thinking, and given a couple of tips on my blog if anyone is interested in finding out more.