My #5EmailsADay challenge

Yesterday, I announced on Twitter that I will only write 5 emails a day (#5EmailsADay). Reactions from Twitter friends were positive while acknowledging how challenging it would be. Interestingly, no one asked why I was doing it. I think we all get it. But I wanted to write it down so I can crystallise it in my head why I’m doing it.

Like many of my colleagues, I check my emails first thing in the morning. Even before I arrive at work. OK… Even before I eat breakfast. Those handheld devices.. They make it so easy. And I want to know what happened when I was asleep. Because you know, I’m sure I’ll get an email that will change my world for the better.

And I arrive at work, turn on my computer and make my coffee (yes, only coffee trumps emails). What do I do next? I turn on my email software..

I feel that email has started to become my work, rather than a tool that aids my work. Does that sound familiar?

I start reading emails and for me the urge to respond immediately is very strong. So my own to-do/will-do list gets stalled. Because I’m now responding to the tennis balls that are being thrown at me from the other side of court. Ruthlessly. Incessantly.

I have a couple of colleagues where I have this kind of conversation:

Me: “Have you seen the email X sent? What do you think” (email could have been sent anywhere between an hour to a day ago)

Them: “No. I haven’t seen it. I haven’t read my emails yet.”

Me: “?!’

I want to be more like them.

Just to get an idea, I just checked my sent items folder. Here are the numbers for the past week:

24/1 Friday: 12

25/1 Saturday: 3

26/1 Sunday: 15 (ugh)

27/1 Monday: 34 (term begins)

28/1 Tuesday: 22

29/1 Wednesday: 19

30/1 Thursday: 22

Looking at these numbers, some may say it’s not a lot. But to me, they represent a lot of interruptions.

I have also been informally quizzing people about their email habits. Some of the people I most respect said to me: “I don’t check emails before 10am”, “I check emails once a day: 5pm”.


Last term, I was on research leave and some days that I’ve been working from home, I made a rule: no email checking before 11am. And it was revelatory. I got so much more done.

But this is not about productivity either. Yes, I’d like to be more productive. But actually, I’d like to do more of the stuff that is important to me rather than doing this most of the time that are important to others.

I’m hoping that by training myself to write only 5 emails a day, it will actually mean that I check my emails less. What’s the point of having the email turned on in the background if I’m training myself not to respond to it immediately.

I pride myself for having a good email etiquette anyway: I write appropriate subject headings, don’t use ‘high priority’ button unless absolutely necessary, write concise emails (can’t stand long-winding emails). But I’m hoping with this #5EmailsADay exercise I can be even more thoughtful in my email correspondences.

I’m also hoping that this will increase my communication in other ways: I can go to the admin office instead of emailing. It’s one flight of stairs up so that’ll even increase my daily count of steps! (This is now health psychologist in me talking).

I’d be very interested in knowing your response to this challenge. I’ll let you know how I get on.


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