5 Control Your Attention

Now that you have your email sorted out, and you have a schedule to handle the incoming email, it’s now time to control how much attention you pay emails.

Control when you Check Email

If you are involved in work that requires deep thought and concentration (and your boss expects this), you can get away with only checking email once a day. Break the expectation of immediate response, and make it clear that you will check it and when. You can put this in your signature line if you like. Always let your supervisor know that you are doing this.

However, if you are in a situation that you have to deal with more urgent things through email, or most of your job is email, then we can take advantage of that statistic that half of all emails get responded to within an hour. Check your email on the top of the hour for urgent emails.

Close your Email

No amount of organization is going to fix an email problem if you still have to think about it all the time. Remember, the whole point of this is to focus less on email so you can do other things. If you’re sitting there waiting for emails to come in,  you’re wasting your time. Do your scheduled email tasks, and then close the whole program down.

Ask for Urgent and Important Emails to be treated differently

If you are not actively looking at your inbox all day, then when something comes through that is truly urgent, you might be scared you won’t see it. Alleviate that fear by asking your supervisor and your employees to treat urgent emails differently. You can use your email signature line to let people know what you would like.

If you have a person that is super important, you can create a rule to handle those differently. In Outlook, you can ask people to use the “Mark as Important” feature. Or, you can ask that they put the word “URGENT” in the title, and you can create a rule that handles those differently.

You can set up rules to have urgent emails go to your phone, make a sound on the desktop, or even pop up in a window.


Try closing down your email for just one hour. Start there. Set a timer, and try. What changes do you notice? Are you nervous? Did you actually check your email despite the fact that you weren’t supposed to? What did you do during that hour instead of email?

For the first week, try closing your email for an hour every day and see if that’s something you are comfortable with. After that week, see if you can start checking your email then closing it every hour. If that goes well, stretch it to two hours. Then see if you can check it once in the morning and once after your lunch break. If that works, see if you can check it only once a day.

If at any point you experience problems (not seeing important emails), then take a step back and figure out if you can have those important urgent emails be treated differently.


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Personal Email Management Copyright © 2021 by Joy M. Perrin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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