Exterminator 11 - My Nemesis, Email

Reading time ~3 minutes

This week I was confounded by my nemesis, email. Too often email and notifications knock me out of the zone and drain my focus. I have been doubling down to finish everything for our upcoming release and find myself constantly distracted by checking email for anything to help us wrap up.

The rise of immersive technology has made escaping the digital world a requirement for being able to get things done. As a part of my yearly goal for improving my focus, I have been trying to eliminate my digital noise by removing as many interruptions/alerts as possible.

I started with trying to reduce the number of times I am distracted by email and am finding it particularly hard. We use email as a part of team activities, like code reviews, where any delays responding to them cause further delays to the work being done.

Further Reading

There are plenty of recommendations for how to deal email and improve your focus. Here are two I particularly liked.

In Scott Hanselman complete list of productivity tips, he recommendations not checking email in the morning (or at night). Borrowed from David Allen, he suggests you should schedule time to check your email and otherwise work on more important things.

David Allen, in his best selling book Getting things Done, advocates for a 2-minute rule. While reviewing incoming work/requests the 2-minute rule suggests you should deal with anything you can finish in less than 2-minutes immediately! This will help finish small distractions so you can get back to the more important tasks.

What I am Trying

Inspired by these recommendations, I have been experimenting with ways to reduce my email addiction and focus on getting my work done. The early results are positive and so I thought I would share what I am trying with you.

Check email less by closing your email client. Rather than leaving my email client open all the time, I have been trying to keep it closed most days. This has not been easy and I often find myself going to check email when I don’t want to be. This is a compromise from only check my email once a day so I can better deal with more urgent requests, like code reviews.

Use the 2-minute rule to quickly dispatch most email. If you read GTD and get nothing other than the 2-minute rule, it is worth it! I have been able to clear out many small messages and keep going thanks to this simple rule.

Prune the distributions lists you are on. While on loan to Exterminators I stopped subscribing to several email lists and rerouted others notifications to folders I could check less frequently. Less email means I can spend less time dealing with email. This has also resulted in fewer meetings and other distractions.

Turn off email alerts. If your email is open, you don’t want to be distracted by notifications. Turn them off and love your life.

Stop using email for urgent activities. Many of my urgent and important requests, like code reviews, arrive via email. We have started using instant messaging as a team. Some urgent requests have started to move to instance messaging which allows us to deal with important notifications faster.

Next Steps

Cutting down on my email interruptions has been going well, but I think there is still more I could do.

I have dabbled with not checking email in the morning with little success. Working with teams in different time zones has meant if I do not read my email and respond in the morning we start blocking each other.

As an alternative, I am trying to only check my email once or twice a day during scheduled windows. This will take discipline and I think I can make it part of my routine with enough effort. So far I have been able to do it a few days a week and hope I can make it a habit.

After adjusting the email lists I am a part of I have started thinking about other things I can cut out. Why was I on those lists in the first place? What am I missing by not subscribing? What else should I stop doing? Based on these questions I have started reconsidering the meetings I attend and projects to pursue or defer.


I have found it very useful to be mindful of what is throwing me off. For me email is a big stumbling block. Defeating this distraction has been great and helped me stay in the zone longer.

What is your biggest distraction? What could you do to get rid of it?

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