why i don't check email before noon

preface: i didn't make up this practice. i've heard about it in several places, include via james clear, barking up the wrong tree, david allen, cal newport, and more.

email. the bane of many a working professional’s existence. it stresses me the fuck out. and, for now, it seems i still need to use it.

one of my firm commitments for this year is to not check email before 12p. it’s a practice that i started about two years ago, but am trying to get much more strict about it in 2018. that means being more explicit about it in my casual interactions with people, both as a way to share the goodness that has come from the practice and for back myself into actually holding to the commitment. because who wants to be liar, ya know?

anyway, why do i do this and what are the impacts?


everyday you have a limited amount of energy to use (more on that here). every decision you make uses some of that energy. when you use up lots of energy responding to little things in the early part of your day, you burn through the energy needed to do bigger, important things.

making lots of tiny decisions is easier than making a few big decisions and so most people will defer the big stuff to do the little stuff. but since the big stuff is usually the strategic stuff, it puts us in a perpetual state of avoiding important, difficult work. in the long-run, this is a destructive habit that puts us in a mode of perpetual urgency (because we put off the big important stuff until it becomes an emergency and we can no longer put if off).

email puts your brain in to reactive-mode

responding to emails is a (mostly) reactive activity. there’s nothing wrong with that… except that if you’re always in reactive mode, you never have time and space to be proactive. (sidenote: if you do any social justice work, you’ve probably heard this pain before but maybe not associated it with email).

not checking email in the morning gives you space to decide for yourself what your priorities are/should be (and, ideally, you’d then work on those things). this matters because most people actually have different priorities for different things and if you’re always in response mode, you’re only ever dealing with things the other people have deemed priorities. in some circumstances (hierarchical structures), that’s probably necessary. but in others (and even in hierarchy) it seems necessary to me to be able to define and move towards your own priorities. defining my own priorities has been an important part of learning how to be more strategic.

impact: learning how to let little things fall

in deep work, cal newport talks about learning how to let little things fall so that big things don’t. i really love that framing. missing small deadlines (the “hey what do you think about…”s and the “thoughts?”s) gives you time and space to focus on bigger tasks. and, again, in the long-run, the bigger stuff is often the more important stuff. in our world, it feels pretty impossible to let small things fall and yet it has been my experience (and the experience of folks in newport’s book) that the value gained from the bigger stuff far outweighs the trouble caused by missing the small stuff.

there are many more thoughts on this topic, but i’ve written for way too long and now late. agh! byeeeeeee.

ps - i really do try to hold this and sometimes i break the commitment, especially if i know i’m waiting on something important or urgent to come in. that said, it’s still really helpful to have the default be no email before noon and then occasionally choose days where that doesn’t hold.

pps - thanks for the prompt, andy. i kept meaning to write about this in 2017, but never did.

words / writing / post-processing
628w / 20min / 5min