A writer for Better Homes and Gardens contacted me with questions about how much time should be spent on email. Here was her request:
“For one of the illustrations, we would like to show a five-day calendar with periods of time scheduled for responding to emails. How much time do you recommend people block off for email work? Do you recommend scheduling this every day? Are there any times of the day to avoid? Or any times of the day that you especially recommend for responding to email?”
Here was my response:
If we’re talking about work email, company policy should dictate expectations for email responses. If there’s no policy, the industry or job responsibility would dictate the email schedule.
For instance, if someone works in customer service or tech support, their job is to respond immediately to customer questions via phone or email, so they should check multiple times each hour. A public relations representative for a major company is pretty much on call around the clock. An associate at a law office is at the beck and call of the partners. These positions have specific response time expectations, so they should check often throughout the day. If you don’t have a job with these stated expectations, you should be checking far less.
In professions where there is not a true emergency, common email etiquette is to respond by the next business day.
If you needed to generalize big time, an ideal email schedule is to check daily near the beginning of the work day (after you’ve already identified your top priorities for the day), at mid-day and before the end of the day. As for the amount of time, if you can keep it to 30 minutes or less per check-in, that would be great. (When clients follow my email prevention advice, they can usually keep it to that timeframe.)
Monday mornings usually have the largest load of emails to sort through because people either thought of something or are catching up on work over the weekend, and the end result lands in your inbox. A little extra time on Monday mornings should be scheduled to process those emails.
As for the best time to respond, it’s not so much the time of day to respond that matters; it’s the expectations you set in your email for when deliverables are needed or when you’ll be available by email for the next response.
If we’re talking about personal email, once per day outside of work hours should cover it.
For best practices including how much time should be spent on email, here are three resources: