The 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers

Email Checking Productivity: A Few More Tips for the Battle

on February 27, 2010 in Productivity & Organization

In January, I posted Slaying the Email Dragon. I was talking with Carol Tice on LinkedIn and she told me that she wished she could follow these rules. In all fairness, those're some strict rules outlined--you probably have to work up to them. I gave the following advice to Carol, and maybe it can help you too (and be sure to ask me any questions you have and I'll try my best to help you out):

Take small steps.

Set a goal (or rather table of goals) to check it only once every 30 minutes, then an hour, then every four hours (which is probably twice per workday) and then you can do it once per workday / 24 hours. You can create a time table that works for you.

Charge yourself. You probably have some money you allow yourself to spend on something you don't have to have, you just really want, like a Starbucks budget or similar. For every time you break your set goal, you take away a certain set amount. It tends to demotivate the bad behavior because it suuucks.

Reward yourself.

Jenn does a great job explaining this in her goal-setting post. (And she really goes into good detail about this in her Web Writer's Guide. If you haven't invested the $37 in that book yet, stop reading this post. You'd do better with your time to get to that book now!)

Set reasonable exceptions.

Allow yourself to respond to networking conversations or really important queries when you want to, so you can check for that email (and that email only!) unless it's a client email.

Really, it is just a good idea to look at email but not take more time than it takes to scan subject lines (or emails if your contacts haven't maneuvered those well) and only respond during a set, important time and not get distracted and off track.

Thanks for sharing!
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Jessie Fitzgerald writes about health and nutrition, especially for direct B2C sales nutritional supplement companies. Hire her at Read about becoming a nutrition writer at

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  1. Cathy Miller February 27, 2010 Reply

    Add social media to the mix and you really have a challenge staying focused. You know you need the social media for networking and email for assignments you are working on and then there’s the RSS feeds. It can all become overwhelming and hinder productivity.

    I can’t remember where I read it (otherwise I’d give them credit) but one technique I have tried that seems to work is allowing just 10 minutes on the hour to break away from writing to do whatever–emails, social media, etc. Set a timer, if you have to. It gives you a break but doesn’t let it get out of control. Where I use this technique is when I am working on some of my more tedious, technical writing. I find it keeps me fresh but also makes me “get back to it” so the project gets done.

    I can be easily distracted so I love the productivity tips!

  2. Dan Smith February 27, 2010 Reply

    Cathy – I remember when I was at School we had a sub teacher in one day and he had a great teaching plan in which for every hour lesson, we’d stop every thirty minutes and just chat for five minutes.

    Unfortunately, this wasn’t accepted by the school and he didn’t last long as a sub, but it’s something which I still use today and for every hour, I stop for ten minutes and check my e-mails, check Twitter or simply go and make a cup of coffee.

    For me at least, I find it difficult to concentrate for hours on end, so by taking ten minutes out every hour, I can ensure that I can work for several hours without becoming massively distracted.

  3. Carol Tice March 1, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the tips! I am struggling mightily with email. Sometimes I am just in a procrastinating mood…and it’s just so…exciting to see who is emailing me! And so much more fun and less taxing to answer and read email than to do any of my actual paying assignments.

    Will first aim for picking up email every half-hour which would be a big step forward for me, and would like to get to twice a day, great goal. NEED to get the email habit under control!

    Carol Tice
    on the Make a Living Writing blog: 21 Ways to Market Your Writing: The Social Media Edition

  4. Jessie Haynes / JHaynesWriter March 1, 2010 Reply

    Carol Tice liked my advice so much, she had me guest post on her blog,, and you can read that blog post here:

    That is an excellent idea. I’ve not read that before, but I’m sure whoever wrote that would be glad that you at least wanted to attribute that to them. It does seem like it could be a good idea for a lot of business owners, workers, professionals trying to keep things from getting boring and adding a little variety. Twitter is my biggest time sucker, like it is for so many. Luckily, I’m very good at networking on Twitter, but I have to pay very close attention to my tweeting time so that I’m not being ineffective. I also have friends that I only get to talk to infrequently on the (very horrendous) Facebook chat, so I’ll have that open and talk to them while I’m working–with a mutual understand that I have to finish a entire heading’s content (from my outline, I always write from some kind of outline) before I respond to the chat. That could be a really good idea, especially if you schedule that time with yourself.

    I may be the productivity guru, but you’ve pointed me in a direction of something I should be doing. While very effective, I have have workaholic tendencies. I put in severely long hours, at times, like now when I’m working hard to build my platform as a productivity writer. I’m work long past ten hours without taking breaks beyond grabbing a different pen or the next outline from which I work. As I said, I love Twitter. Also love my Vitamin Water’s (the pink for focus in amazing and the yellow for energy is always amazing, in case you didn’t know!) and that’s a great habit you gave me to create! Thanks so much. I feel a blog post coming on, there, at my organizing blog Which Planner. Hmm.

    Glad you could stop by–you inspired this post (as you know)! It is really, really easy–and fun!!–to be addicted to email. We will tell ourselves all sorts of things, like it could be money or a client may need to talk to us or there are conversations going on that we need to be a part of. If you can tell yourself when you’ll check your email and stick to that, you just became a good supervisor…now keep getting yourself to listen.

  5. Lori W. March 1, 2010 Reply

    I’m an email junkie. On Outlook 2003, I had it set to check for messages every 5 minutes and alert me. Since Twitter came into my life, that was one steaming pile of interruptions. Now that I have Outlook 2007, the notifications are less intrusive. I find myself continuing what I’m doing (because I don’t have to physically click and reject reading the new message). It’s been a godsend.

    Another little side tip – I switched my starting page from Yahoo to Google (the bare bones one). I wasted so much time reading those little news bits!

  6. Jessie Haynes / JHaynesWriter March 1, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Distractions are everywhere! Focus is key for freelancing success: you have to be able to tend to your priorities and get the important tasks completed.

    If you can find things that will help you to focus more and achieve more. All about finding your best practices.

  7. Dan Smith March 3, 2010 Reply

    Jessie – I know far too well about the ten hour shifts, as up until recently I was putting in 60-70 hour weeks.

    It then got to the point where I was of no use to anyone and I began looking at my actual productivity and how much time I actually spent working, rather than “pretend working” (i.e., e-mails, Twitter, etc).

    I put back into place my rule of stopping every hour (and being strict about it!), as well as giving myself a rule of doing no work late at night or on a weekend unless it is absolutely necessary (again, being strict about it).

    So far, so good – I’m still meeting the needs of all of my clients but also managing to grab more than four hours sleep!

  8. Jessie Haynes / JHaynesWriter March 3, 2010 Reply

    I have to stop myself. For example, as I type this last work of the day now, I’ve been working for eight hours. I have plenty more I could do, but I’m limiting work to eight hours. That means I’m putting things down when I would normally continue to work on.
    But, even if I could still put in eight more hours and be productive (without caffeine, even–a blessing and a curse) I cannot kill myself like that. I’m getting married on Sunday and not working for a few days before and after that, so it becomes harder to not work “overtime” but I need to prep for more than single me working all the time.

    Glad to help everyone I can to be more productive, and hoping I can really curb my workaholic habits!

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