Checking email in the morning can be very disruptive to your whole day, not because email is bad but because it's other-focused. And this actually goes beyond email. Any communication method can be a disruption for you, especially in the morning.
As Seth Godin says, if you check your email in the morning...
“You've just surrendered not only a block of time but your freshest, best chance to start something new. If you're an artist, a leader or someone seeking to make a difference, the first thing you do should be to lay tracks to accomplish your goals, not to hear how others have reacted/responded/insisted to what happened yesterday."
When you wake up, ideally it's because you are ready to start your day. You aren't jarred awake by a bugle announcing breakfast, a child begging for something, or a boss pointing at you and telling you what to do. Hopefully you get up before all that - when the quiet of the morning allows your mind to think and even be in a serene state of calm.
It's no coincidence that we have some of our best thoughts during a morning shower.
Your brain has just been dreaming and imagining for hours, of course it's going to be flooded with great ideas in the morning. Research indicates that sleeping, by the way, is much more for our brains than for our body. But you already knew that didn't you?
During Peace Corps, in an effort to be more physically fit, I would spend about 30 minutes every morning working out. I had read that exercising before breakfast burns up to 3 times more calories, since you're exercising on an empty stomach. I can certainly feel the difference. In my own kind of fuzzy logic, this made me feel good thinking that it was as if I had just worked out for an hour and a half later in the day. Triple win.
The side benefit of doing this started to become a more primary motivation for me - exercising when I woke up helped clear my mind throughout the day. My body had that "tired" feeling in my muscles that feels wonderful and exhausted at the same time, and it was like the volume on everything around me had been turned down a notch. I didn't get distracted or annoyed as easily, and I certainly felt much better about myself in general, so my confidence and patience went up as well. This clarity of mind made me feel 10 times more productive and focused. I didn't need coffee, social media distractions, or someone to tell me what do to. I just did what I knew was right, and this changed from day to day.
When it comes down to it, most communication focuses on "someone telling you what to do." Occasionally someone approaches you with the best question in the world, but that's often too rare. Most communication focuses on: read this, respond to this, act on this, pay this, laugh at this, share this, be persuaded by this, support this. Right?
It's no wonder that a full inbox stresses us out. Meetings, mailboxes (the old kind), clubs, leagues, committees, and teams can feel the same way. They demand action, energy and time from us. Oh and money. But honestly, money is the least valuable of the four. It's our actions, time and energy that we wish we had more of right? The famous saying is, "I wish I had more hours in the day." Why didn't they say money? It's because we want to do awesome things, we want to take part in action that is meaningful and we want to experience a life worth living.
Step one is don't get distracted. By email, television, commitments or anything else that truly doesn't matter to you. Focus on what you love. Make these things work in your favor. Write short emails that get straight to the point. Engage with others in a way that is meaningful and memorable. Refuse to waste time in meetings or committees that aren't creating something valuable.
You might picture my time in Peace Corps being this isolated monk-like existence where I lived in a small tent in the middle of a field and milked my own cow to fill my cereal bowl in the morning. I don't blame you, I sort of pictured that myself. But most Peace Corps Volunteers are surrounded by modern conveniences, no matter where they live. And in my case cereal can cost $10 a box, so even if I had my own cow I wouldn't be putting the milk in cereal.
In Mongolia, I could check Facebook everyday at home or at work and I could sit on Gmail and chat all day long. This situation might be familiar to you as well. Instead, I chose to use those tools to benefit my community. I taught my doctor and nurse students how to set up email accounts, protect their computers from viruses and install english learning software. I created websites to raise money for projects, build a sports park, create a small handicraft business, told others about Peace Corps and self-published a book about it. I also occasionally watched The Daily Show on Comedy Central. But I tried, everyday, to not get distracted.
Don't give away control of your attention to others - through email, Facebook, television or any other form of media. Use it to your advantage and your purposes instead. Those things, at their best, allow us to help others and connect more easily with them, and to bring us one step closer to changing the world and making it a better place for our future generations.
Step One: Wake up and start your day refreshed. Step Two: Don't check your email. Step Three: You decide.
Pro Tip: Send new email from Gmail without opening your Inbox. Just go to: http://bit.ly/simplysend