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Submitted by US101 on


In the Calendar Management cast Mark recommends checking email 3 times a day, at scheduled times.

Is anyone else struggling with doing this?

I've scheduled three, 30-minute blocks on my Outlook calendar, but I'm still checking email throughout the day. Is this just a discipline thing, breaking the habit?

Help. Anyone got a better way?

I use GTD and "Do It Tomorrow's" methods from Mark Forster. This has helped, but the volume of email is tough to keep up with.

Gareth's picture

US101, What volume of email are you getting and who is it from? Could you use the feedback model to restrict the e-mail from your directs?

Do you create more e-mail yourself by hitting that reply button instead of picking up the phone?

ashdenver's picture

I struggle with it as well, simply because I rely so heavily on my Calendar function to keep me on schedule throughout the day (those reminders are wonderful!) I also need to keep my Calendar open (or at least I need to get into it a half-dozen times or more per day) to schedule upcoming phone appointments with clients. Additionally, much of my communication with clients is done through email - answering basic questions, requesting additional information, sending preliminary documentation or sample report data - and I'm pretty much in Outlook so darn often that it's virtually impossible for me to stick to only dealilng with email three times a day.

I too struggle with the volume. Our internal systems generate an obscene amount of email that I summarily "highlight all and Mark as Read" for the most part however there are many time-sensitive things that come in which require sooner response rather than later. I have often felt as if I would be putting myself behind the proverbial 8 ball to restrict my email checking to three times per day.

I would love to hear any suggestions about this topic as well.

[color=olive][u]Side notes in response to the query US posed to the OP[/u]: A significant portion of the emails I send / reply to are instructional in nature and as such it is critical to the client's continued success that they have written instructions from which to refer at a later date. Juggling 100+ clients has almost forced me to adopt an "email only or mostly" policy simply because I found that otherwise, they had unreasonable expectations in terms of being able to reach me instantly. (I am often scheduled on one or two hour calls regulary and these can sometimes end up back-to-back. Last week, I had a day where I spent 6 solid hours on scheduled calls. If I didn't 'train' my clients to reach me via email, they would (and did) get really upset that they weren't "ever able to reach [me] by phone!")

There are times where, in the span of a single hour, I might read fifteen emails, reply quickly to three, begin working on replying to another, run a report for a client, answer two Instant Messages from colleagues and DR's, deal with six project management milestone issues, create a training plan, send a couple of emails to a few different groups on a different project and then wrap back around to grab the resulting output of that report, proof the pending email-reply-in-progress and answer the question of someone who stopped by my desk.

If I picked up the phone, I would be derailed from that progress and be forced to focus my undivided attention for however long the person wanted/needed to stay on the phone (rather than a couple minutes at a time as the work permitted), allowing everything else to get backed up, only to be required (by company policy) to send a recap email to the client documenting all that we had just talked about anyway. Heh.

So yeah, I would [i]love [/i]to break free from the email monster but so far it's been the only saving grace I've had and it's been the ONLY tool I've been able to find that will effectively allow me to be productive on a continuous basis. (I consistently outperform my peers in virtually every metric.) [/color]

asteriskrntt1's picture

I think going from checking one's email 10 times an hour to 3x a day is the equivalent of going from walking out the front door to your driveway and expecting that to be a basis for being able to run a marathon.

I suggest you use a progression. If you normally check your email 50 times a day (or whatever number you do), and set a target of reducing that number 10% every two weeks.

As you do this, you will find what works for you and what doesn't. You should also communicate to your clients, stakeholders, whomever that you are working on reducing your email checks. Some will applaud you, some will challenge you (like those who sabotage people trying to change their diet or exercise patterns).

I applaud your efforts. Don't abandon your efforts. Just take a few steps back and have at it again. You will be successful.


US41's picture

* Print out your calendar in the morning after you check email for the first time (so your accepted meetings are in there))
* Print out your tasks
* Shut down outlook
* Don't open outlook again until just after lunch
* Update calendar and tasks and print again
* Repeat that afternoon


* disable all sounds and pop up notification windows (toast)
* turn off all instant messaging - all of it.
* Kill all reminders
* Disable vibrating or ringing on your blackberry when messages have arrived and observe the same disicpline with the blackberry as with your desktop.

It's a great method and I've seen it work wonders for a lot of people. Mark and Mike are right: always-on is insane.

MsSunshine's picture

Don't know if this helps but for me it's key to: Do what's important - not urgent.

For me, at least, it works better to focus on what I want to start doing. Then email naturally fell into it's place. I block out time and at the start of the block have a goal to accomplish in that time. Then just focus on that. In between blocks, I'm free to check email, wander & talk to staff, etc. I actually block them in my schedule so I can't get meetings and a reminder comes up to tell me to do X.

Our company uses Lotus Notes for EVERYTHING (project documents, specifications,...) :( So, shutting down Notes was unrealistic. But by using basic time management, I schedule my day/week. If I'm working at my desk outside of Notes, I'm just not looking at it. If I'm in Notes and see an email, I either respond if it is really urgent or note it to take care of later.

(This is a well known time management system my coach recommended and works for me - but the name escapes me right now :oops: . It consists of writing down anything that comes up at the moment and later evaluating them as urgent, normal, long term, etc. I block out time to do regular things like 03's, working on long term initiatives, etc. Weekly, I review my to-do slips and prioritize tasks...and so on)

dave445's picture

I've been trying to get to 3x per day for a couple years - it's a constant struggle. I've found the most effective way to process emails is to move away from my desk. Processing my email into tasks in the caf or a small meeting room prevents the "Receive" part of "Send/Receive".

When I travelled more, planes were also great for this. It's harder now that I'm more teathered to my desk.

I'm absolutely more effective when I have this in control. It's just an ongoing struggle. Don't ever give up control of your calendar to email.

Now I'm motivated - leaving the forums to clear out my inbox!

fchalif's picture
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If your computer has to be on for you to complete other tasks (Excel, Word...), then [b]turn off Outlook[/b].

If you are doing computer work at all but are at your desk, i.e. taking calls or O3s, then [b]turn off the monitor.[/b]

I have the luxury of an admin and continually train her to handle as many emails as she can on her own. We worked through emails for a few weeks and established a framework for her to do the next action herself.

Even with that great benefit, i tend to turn off Outlook altogether after she and I have gone over schedule and tasks first thing in the morning.

rikt's picture

I manage data centers, largely what we do is through e-mail. While I am not directly involved in day to day operations all of my directs and their directs are. Do you think the 3x a day rule would apply here?

I tend to think we have a lot of rule breakers, we are just about forced to use sametime(chat), e-mail and voice conferencing to handle business.

I think I can manage down to 3 to 4 times a day, but my directs, managing three data centers, how should I set my expectations for them?

bflynn's picture

The emails related to call center work ought to be directed to a common system account. Obviously the 3x rule doesn't apply there.

The 3x a day rule applies to personal email. The rule is intended to prevent distractions, encourage face to face communciations and prevent using email for the wrong topics (such as conflict resolution, requesting action, etc). When you boil it all away, there isn't much that can't be done without email and there are many efficient organizations which don't use it. You will be more efficient without email.


TomW's picture
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[quote="bflynn"]The 3x a day rule applies to personal email. [/quote]

Just to clarify: By "personal", do you mean "email to you specifically" or "non-work related email"?

bflynn's picture

Email addressed to you personally.

In the case of a call center run run via email, the work emails should be arriving in a dedicated mailbox. That mailbox is monitored according to your SLA. It isn't a good practice to send organizational emails to an individual's box because sooner or later that person won't be at work, or on vacation or just not working there anymore.

Emails intended for you, whether work related or personal would arrive in your personal email mailbox. This is the mailbox that you should read 3 times a day.


sklosky's picture


* Shut down outlook



US101's picture
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Thanks for the good suggestions.

Setting Outlook to work offline is really helping me stay focused on plan for the day.

jclishe's picture

[quote="US101"] Setting Outlook to work offline is really helping me stay focused on plan for the day.[/quote]

I'm glad you mentioned this, because that's what I was going to recommend and was surprised that I didn't see it suggested earlier in the thread.

For me personally, between meetings, tasks, contact info, and emails / files that I need to send throughout the day, it simply isn't possible for me to shut down Outlook. So I simply go offline.

My routine looks like this:

Launch Outlook first thing in the morning. Process all mail and respond to anything urgent. Once my unread count is down to zero and I've sent everything that needs to be sent, I simply switch Outlook to offline mode. Then I continue working. If I need to send email, I go ahead and compose and send it, but it simply sits in my outbox. Then after about 2 hours I swtich Outlook back to online mode. Any messages sitting in my outbox get sent, and new mail comes in. I process the new mail, switch Outlook to offline mode, and do everything all over again.

Works great. I have access to my email but am never interrupted or distracted with any new messages.

ashdenver's picture

[quote="jclishe"][quote="US101"] Setting Outlook to work offline is really helping me stay focused on plan for the day.[/quote]
Launch Outlook first thing in the morning. Process all mail and respond to anything urgent. Once my unread count is down to zero and I've sent everything that needs to be sent, I simply switch Outlook to offline mode. Then I continue working. If I need to send email, I go ahead and compose and send it, but it simply sits in my outbox. Then after about 2 hours I swtich Outlook back to online mode. Any messages sitting in my outbox get sent, and new mail comes in. I process the new mail, switch Outlook to offline mode, and do everything all over again.

Works great. I have access to my email but am never interrupted or distracted with any new messages.[/quote]
I absolutely love this - thanks for sharing! I will try this next week. (You guys rock, but you already know that!)

asteriskrntt1's picture

Putting outlook offline is one of the smartest suggestions I have heard in months.

Thanks 41. Simple but brilliant!


jemflower's picture

[quote="US41"]* Print out your calendar in the morning after you check email for the first time (so your accepted meetings are in there))
* Print out your tasks
* Shut down outlook
* Don't open outlook again until just after lunch
* Update calendar and tasks and print again
* Repeat that afternoon


* disable all sounds and pop up notification windows (toast)
* turn off all instant messaging - all of it.
* Kill all reminders
* Disable vibrating or ringing on your blackberry when messages have arrived and observe the same disicpline with the blackberry as with your desktop.


Once you get into the discipline of this, it does really really work. I've gone one step further - I don't use a Blackberry. We have great remote access facilities so I rely on those as necessary.

:) jem

ashdenver's picture

P.S. - I've always printed out the next day's calendar before shutting down for the day.

I can't tell you the number of times something has either gone wrong (hardware failure, password lockout, power failure) or just routine maintenance with little notice (forced updates causing a reboot) that leave me without access to my calendar when I walk in the door. It's comforting to know that I have the paper copy to refer to when something like that comes up first thing in the morning to either stop hyperventilating that I'm going to miss a scheduled appointment or to be able to keep the appointment since I have the name and phone number printed right in front of me.

Technology is great but not infallible!

Norwood's picture

I usually check email in the morning first thing because our CEO wakes up at 4 or 5am and starts firing emails. Instead of reading everything, though, I scan for urgent messages (like the emails from the CEO). I then minimize outlook and go work on a project I have scheduled for the next hour or so. I don't check my email until that project is complete (usually 60 to 90 mins blocks) and check for a few minutes before I begin my next project.

I've disabled all notifications of new emails because they can be really distracting but I let outlook run on the background, minimized, so it can alert me if I have a meeting coming up.

In sum, instead of taking the 3x rule blindly I simply adapted it and yes, some days I only check 3x, but other days it can be 5 or 10 times... the difference now is that I am in charge and are aware why I'm checking email instead of simply HAVING to check every minute because it's open and it's there.

sklosky's picture

[quote="ashdenver"]Technology is great but not infallible![/quote]

I think that ink on paper is one of the best technologies ever invented. :)

BJ_Marshall's picture
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I wanted to share with you my experience with this, as I've been keeping track. I definitely save time checking e-mail less often, it's crazy!

I use Lotus Notes. I actually leave it up all day long because I have [url=]some Getting Things Done methodologies incorporated into it[/url].

If I don't have any meetings scheduled, I don't check e-mail except for the designated times. If I have meetings, I'll glance at my e-mail to see if there are any pre-meeting documents for me to review; if none, I go back to what I was doing. (I can't seem to get people to realize that sending agendas and support material 30 minutes before a meeting is ineffective. I keep telling myself things will change when I become The Big Cheese™ 8) .)

It's not just that I save time checking my e-mail. I do, for sure. The real value comes from the fact that, once I'm into a task for ten minutes or so, I really get into the zone. And it's truly amazing how much I can clear out when I'm in the zone for an extended period of time without being distracted by mundane e-mail. No more does that stupid e-mail throw me off course!!

Powerful stuff. If you're not doing this already, then I strongly encourage you to find a way to do it.


hpacca's picture

I'm sorry, but I'm very comfortable with the time I spend answering emails. That's the way things happens here. I have different projects with teams located in two cities in Brazil, one in Argentina and another in Mexico. In another project I have people in USA (Texas and New York) and India. We communicate all the time with emails or Sametime (chat). This is an ongoing activity. And guess what, my in-box is never too loaded. I always answer emails right after they arrive. The number of emails I have in my in-box never goes over 10 waiting to be filed or deleted. And I use to receive more than 100 emails every day.

What I ask my people is: do not copy me just because you feel like it.   << If you ask a guy in data-center to do something for you, why did you copy me on that? If you expect me to do something, mention this in the email, otherwise keep it to yourself. If you need to tell me something, send it to me. And keep it short. >>

Important thing: I canceled most of the newsletters I was receiving. If I don't have time to read it I don't need to receive it. And, important thing, emails with jokes or other inspirational messages like send-to-everyone-you-know are deleted as soon they arrive. This helps a lot.

DarrellNorton's picture

If you are using Outlook, there is a mode called Outlook Today.  In the left-hand list of folders, click on the top-most element, usually called "Mailbox - YOURNAME'.  It shows you your calendar, list of tasks, and messages.  You can customize which folders to include in the Messages column, so maybe only URGENT email shows up there.

jrumple's picture
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I tried the 3x a day when it was first suggested in the Time, er, I mean Schedule Management cast. I wasn't disciplined about it and fell back into old habits. I tried again after the Attention Management cast and Poof, I'm out of e-mail jail and have zero in my inbox. (E-mail jail refers to being over the company size limit for my inbox.) I like the recommendation about working offline, but haven't used it myself. Here are some of the things that I've done.

Ctrl + Shift + V
If I'm reading an e-mail that I know will take some time and attention to take care of I press Ctrl + Shift + V in Outlook. This lets me move the e-mail to another folder. I select my Calendar as the folder. This creates a new appointment (or event) on my calendar, copies all the information, and attaches the message to the event. Now I have time set aside in my calendar to work the issue and I can return focus to addressing the rest of my inbox.

AutoPick Next
This is tied to the earlier item. When the new appointment appears in Outlook, I update the subject and the amount of time needed for this item and then go to the Scheduling view or tab. In the bottom left there is a button "AutoPick Next". By pressing this button Outlook finds the next free block of time on my schedule for this item. I can save this appointment and forget about it because I know I have time scheduled later to handle it.

Ctrl + 2
I think the first time I fell off the wagon was because my Inbox was always staring me in the face. I had turned off the Toast (see Manager Tool Audio Blog). Still I left Outlook open for Calendar reminders, and seeing my Inbox drew me back in. I found that once I got my Inbox emptied each of the 3 times I checked e-mail, I would press Ctrl + 2 to redisplay my calendar. I was really working against my calendar, not my inbox. It made sense that my Calendar should be the primary display of Outlook. (I know this is an awkward keyboard shortcut. If you have a number pad, try using the 2 on the number pad instead of the top row of the keyboard.)

Ctrl + Drag Appointments
This is more schedule management, but ties to having e-mails on my schedule. If I find that the time I estimated for an item wasn't enough to get it done, I still stick to my schedule. I close the appointment. Then in my calendar view of Outlook, I press and hold Ctrl as I drag the appointment. This copies the appointment on my calendar. I open the duplicate, adjust the time needed, and reaccomplish the AutoPick Next tip above.

Ctrl + Shift + K versus Ctrl + Shift + A
I'd like to challenge the Ctrl + Shift + K recommendation. I've found that if I don't assign time to accomplish a task, I don't get it done. After I got my Inbox empty, I went through my Task list in Outlook and used Ctrl + Shift + V to move all my tasks onto my calendar. Now for all the various items that I used to use Ctrl + Shift + K, I use Ctrl + Shift + A to create a new appointment on my calendar. I can still use recurring appointments as I would have done in Tasks. I can also use Ctrl + Drag to duplicate appointments that need follow-up.

Startup in Calendar
I had used Outlook Today in Outlook 2003, but when Outlook 2007 had the month thumbnail, my next three appointments, and my Task list in the Inbox display, I started using that. After working through the Attention Management steps, I went back to Outlook Today. However just today I found a better way. (I'm back on Outlook 2003, but I think this still works in Outlook 2007.) Have Outlook startup in your Calendar View. Do this by selecting Tools --> Options. Then go to the Other tab and select the Advanced Options... button. At the top of the Advanced Options dialog box, select the Browse button and select your Calendar as the folder to startup in. Now restart Outlook and the first display you see should be your calendar.

After years of hundreds of messages in my inbox and constantly getting notices that my mailbox was too large, I was surprised that in less than a week my Inbox was emptied and the following week my Task list was emptied as well. Everything was on my calendar and I had time to focus on my work and the assignments I was receiving by e-mail. No one on my team has noticed that I'm not constantly staring at my Inbox on the ready to respond. Afterall, there were months of no response when I couldn't see the bottom of my Inbox. I've found that with some discipline and the Outlook tips above I can easily manage my inbox and the constant stream of e-mails that I receive. Thank you Career Tools!

wendii's picture
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Thanks everyone! Jrumple, that's a really useful list. Thank you for spending the time to type it out.

I discovered a tiny tip today. I'd turned everything off, but I still had that little envelope that comes up in the bottom right hand side of the screen. If you right click it, there's an option to remove the icon. Then it doesn't appear when you have new mail.


gpsmith's picture

I am based in the UK and will get to the office circa 8am and immediately get in to meetings with our teams in China. This normally goes on for 1-3 hours with different back to back meetings. Therefore short of getting in even earlier, I don't have a diary free slot do to my morning email.

I could just drop it and read email twice a day, but that does seem radical.

Anyone else have a similar problem or suggestion?



thaGUma's picture

It isn't radical, Check your email after the morning meetings and again at 4pm or so if you have 3 hours of meeting in the morning or at noon and 4-5 if the morning is only an hours meet..

The reason being that a 3 hr morning meet will bring you to 1200h and it isn't really worth going back in until 1600 or so.


jrumple's picture
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As I started this technique, I set my Check E-mail appointment to recure daily (working days only) in Outlook. I quickly found that different meetings and business rhythms meant I had to adjust the time I checked e-mail on different days.

I would recommend doing a Time Analysis to make sure your meetings and your priorities are on your calendar first. Then look for patterns where you can add e-mail and leave some holes for emerging tasks and assignments.

There are days where I get pulled into something and have to miss one of my e-mail appointments. I may have to use the full 45 minutes to get through my inbox on those days. I think days where you have 3 hours of back to back meetings it would be fine to only check mail twice a day.

xcelerator's picture
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Thanks for posting this forum. I think you've hit on a topic that many of us struggle with, despite the great advice from the several casts handling this subject. One additional item that I use to manage the high volume of mail in Outlook is to set up a specific folder called "CC_mail". I then set up a rule that pushes all mail in which I am not on the "To:" list into this folder. I set exceptions so that CC mail from specific people -- my CEO, peers, some direct reports -- are unaffected and come into my Inbox. I check "CC_mail" at the end of the day and rarely find that the mail needs a response. This has significantly reduced the volume of mail I have to review during my 3x check.

A bonus: Letting people -- especially your directs -- know about this process helps OTHERS determine the best use of the address fields before they send e-mail.

- xcelerator

ken_wills's picture

 ...they're made to be broken, right?


I've tried 2x/day, 3x/day, blocking times on Outlook, and a variety of other rules.  And then I find I've forgotten all about them.  And I stopped worrying about it, because it really wasn't a problem for me, because I realized that I live my email life according to one overall principle:


Don't Run Your Day from Your Inbox.


And I think that's the key.  It really doesn't matter how many times I check or respond to email, so long as I stick to my overall objectives and my 
"Must Do" tasks.

jrumple's picture
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This reminded me of something I configured years ago and didn't realize how valuable it was until working these new recommendations. Instead of creating a rule to automatically move CC messages out of the Inbox, creating two places to manage, I created a custom column in Outlook that tells me how the e-mail is addressed.

Here are the Outlook 2003 steps, but they will be very similar in Outlook 2007.

  1. Open you Inbox
  2. Right-click on one of the column headings and select Field Chooser
  3. At the bottom of the dialog box, select the New button
  4. Enter Name: To
  5. Select Type: Formula
  6. Paste this into the Formula and replace your e-mail address:
    IIf([To]="johndoe at","To",IIf(InStr(1,[To],"johndoe at",1),"(To)",IIf([Cc]="johndoe at","CC",IIf(instr(1,[Cc],"johndoe at",1),"(CC)","Alias"))))
  7. Drag the new To field into the column headings

Here is what happens, if you're the only person in the To line of the e-mail, this column displays To. If you're one of multiple people in the To line it displays (To). If you're the only person in the CC field, it displays CC. If you're one of multiple people in the CC line, it displays (CC). Anything else, like a BCC or distribution list, it displays Alias.

If you're e-mail server has a Global Address Book and your name apears with the Display Text, put that where the e-mail addresses are above (i.e., "johndoe at" is replaced with "Doe, John").

This gives you more information at a glance. You can still quickly move e-mails using <Ctrl + Shift + V> as well as selecting multiple e-mails with <Shift + Click> and <Ctrl + Click>

San Diego

jrumple's picture
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As I discussed earlier, I've been able to quickly move e-mails from my Inbox to my Calendar making it much easier to assign time to get tasks accomplished. This is also great for Out of Office Replies.

I've gotten a few Out of Office replies from people outside my group that I collaborate with. In Microsoft Outlook, I just use <Ctrl + Shift + V> to move this to my Calendar. I set it as an All Day event and mark the time as Free. I can assign the end time to the date the individual indicated in their reply. I update the Subject to "Out of Office: Doe, John" and use their name.

Now at the top of my Calendar I have a small reminder of who is currently out of the office. If I need to get a reply from them or plan a meeting with them, I can see that I'll have to work it out to when they return.

San Diego