What Happened When I Paused My Inbox

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I’ve known for a long time what how time-consuming checking email can be. In the real estate industry, people tend to leave email open all day long, never giving themselves a chance to get anything else done. A few years ago, I found that if I started limiting the amount of time I had my email open to 20 minutes at a time, I got the same amount of work done in email and way more work done in the rest of my business.

As an experiment, I decided to try a more extreme version of this same principle: checking email twice a day. I put an auto-responder up letting people know my plan:

"Thanks for emailing! I’m trying something new to increase my productivity and I will only be checking email twice a day.

My email will be monitored while I’m working on other tasks, but if this is urgent you may call me at the number below."

So what happened?

#1 – Nobody Cared

Despite a common belief in real estate that we all must respond immediately to every request, very few of us actually hold others to this standard. No one expressed anger or frustration with me delaying my responses a few hours. In fact, most people said nothing at all.

#2 – People Were Envious and Inspired

The few times someone did mention my auto-responder, they usually said something like, “Good job, I wish I could do that.” Others told me they’d been considering something similar for a while, and felt inspired to finally give it a shot.

#3 – I Got More Done

As expected, I got a lot more serious work done when I wasn’t wasting hours on email. Despite waiting half the day for the inbox to fill up, I was still spending less than 30 minutes in my inbox during my two scheduled check-in periods. This left the rest of the day for important meetings, discussions, and focused work.

Eventually I stopped putting up the auto-responder and allowed myself a bit more freedom in my email time. In the end it’s not about twice a day versus 20 times a day, it’s about you controlling your email instead of your email controlling you. Too many people assume they can’t do this, or can’t do it unless they have an assistant to screen the inbox “just in case.” But even without outside help, you can still be proactive about the time you spend in your inbox. If twice a day seems too drastic, try checking it every two hours. You’ll still be very response and catch things quickly, but in between you’ll have more than 90 minutes of focus to work on your business.

Did you know that email is the most cited productivity killer? Check out these steps to help increase your own productivity on Inc.com

Written by Matt van Winkle, CEO RE/MAX Northwest