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I don’t claim to be a professional organizer, but I can’t deny that there is a close relationship between organization and productivity. Recently my dear friend and nationally renowned professional organizing expert Lorie Marrero of ClutterDiet wrote on her blog about some prevalent productivity advice. I began to write in her comments and then realized I had way too much to say on the topic. So Lorie, thank you for inspiring my blog post this morning! I definitely recommend that you head over to Lorie’s excellent blog and read her post for yourself. My thoughts follow…

The premise of her post is that contrary to popular advice, it’s ok to check email first thing in the morning. For me, the real question is whether or not you are supporting your own focused attention, or sabotaging it. Thank you for reminding me, Lorie, that there is always “sound-bite” advice and then there is the whole story.  In this fast-paced media-rich, short-attention span environment we live in, perhaps I’m guilty of too often giving “sound-bite advice.” But I frequently tell people that when it comes to professional advice, the answer to pretty much any question you ask will often be: “it depends.” The same is true here: should you check email first thing in the morning? It depends.

It depends on if you have a handheld device. Believe it or not, there are still many people who don’t, and their only option for email is their computer. But I talk a lot about how technology is making old “time management” advice outdated, and this is a good example – the “old advice” is that you shouldn’t check messages first thing in the morning, because handheld devices first didn’t exist for email, and then weren’t that prevalent. That’s certainly not the case anymore, however I don’t think we’re quite at the point yet, where we can assume that everybody has one. Skim your messages on your phone first thing in the morning to see if any of your plans have changed. But the small format will help you resist the temptation to get too involved in your messages and distracted from the important tasks you may have planned for the morning.

It depends on if you are an independent professional/self-employed, or if you work in an office. I think this is an important distinction with regard to your email schedule. You are less likely to miss something by foregoing email if you are sitting at your desk in a large office and you decide to tackle your task list instead of checking email. Someone will pop their head in, you’ll overhear something, or they’ll call you.

It depends on if you have time to be proactive that morning, or if you are rushing off to a meeting. The whole point, as Lorie mentioned, of not checking email first thing, is to have some *pro*active time. Don’t go to email first thing, so you can spend some time being proactive, knocking off items on your task list. If you were rushing off to a meeting that morning, you wouldn’t have proactive time anyway, nor would you be able to get sucked in to your email, so checking to see if that meeting has been delayed or canceled is certainly prudent.

It depends on how you’ve trained those with whom you have a relationship. Regarding “digging in our heels and insisting people should behave differently”…I actually don’t think this is what happens most of the time. For the people you don’t interact with often, like the random press request, Lorie is absolutely right. I’d go out on a limb and say the vast majority of actual communication most people get via email (not spam or robomails or newsletters, but actual communication) is from people with whom they have a relationship. And if you have a relationship with them, you’ve probably “trained” them in how to communicate with you, whether you realize it or not. Real estate agents ask me, “how do I get my clients to stop calling me at 9 o’clock at night?” My response: “stop answering.” People who need to communicate with you will do what works. If you have “trained” them that you will respond to an email within 5 minutes, then they will feel comfortable using email for emergencies. If however, they email you about something important and you don’t respond, they will typically try reaching you some other way and the way that works, is probably the way they will use next time. So it’s not about wishing and hoping that everyone else will do things differently, but rather about setting up the circumstances so that your own productivity is supported rather than sabotaged.

But for the record, if you have a handheld advice, AND you have the self-discipline not to get sucked in, I think skimming your messages on your handheld device several times a day, including first thing in the morning, is certainly a valid option (I do it myself).  Just be careful, because there might be nothing to stop you from scanning on your phone, and then rushing off to your computer to “just respond to this one…” And then it’s all downhill from there!

Thanks so much to Lorie, for her great advice, and for providing the opportunity for a nuanced discussion of a common productivity technique!  She knows I’m a fan. =)