Reading email is an activity that seems productive, but really isn’t. While email from clients or assistants may be important, most email is about extraneous, non-work items. The worst email habit a freelance writer can have is reading and responding to emails as they come in. Nothing kills productivity faster than stopping work on a project to write an email, especially about a subject that can be dealt with later.

Check your email no more than twice a day

Check your email once in the late morning (or after about three hours of work if you aren’t on a typical schedule). This should allow you to get some real work done before you spend any time dealing with client issues, real or imagined crises, spam, friends, and relatives. Schedule your second email check for the late afternoon (or after about seven hours of work). At that point, your creative energy will probably be just about used up and a mundane activity such as email will be the sort of thing you are still equipped to handle.

Keep your outgoing emails short and on task

Reading email is a big time-waster, but writing email is another productivity killer. If the email is not related to your bottom line, keep your response to five sentences or less. If the email is related to your bottom line, allow yourself six sentences (the extra one is for kissing up). There are two reasons for this. One, so that you don’t waste your time writing the email, and two, so that you don’t waste the recipient’s time reading the email. If you don’t think you can get to the point in five sentences, remind yourself that you are a professional writer and it is your job to write well. Part of that job is learning what to say and what not to say.

Finish all of your email activity by the end of your session

When you deal with email, there are a limited number of options:

  1. Respond to the message and archive it
  2. Respond to the message and delete it
  3. Archive the message without responding
  4. Delete the message without responding

Make sure that you have committed to one of these options before you end your session (and use option four as much as possible). Don’t let a message linger in your inbox, tempting you to come back to it later.

Limit the time you spend on email

Try not to spend more than fifteen minutes per session dealing with e-mail. Make your decision quickly and move on. If you are going to go over that time limit, make sure it is because you have a specific reason to do so. Always remember that you have real work to do.

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