Chalmers St – Consulting


It’s completely wrong.

Let’s jump to the conclusion (spoiler alert) we learn that it’s three times.

You should check your email three times a day

At least that’s the advice of Kostadin Kushlev, a PhD candidate at UBC’s Dept. of Psychology.  Here’s his statement.

Here’s my challenge with Mr. Kushlev’s theory: some people work in customer service and others are computer programmers, and then there’s everything between.  To arbitrarily say that three is the magic number helps no one because everyone thinks their job demands much more attention to email.

So what is the right answer?


You should never check your email.  Checking email is the biggest timewaster since checking the fax machine.  Stop doing it.  Now.

Instead, process your email.  OK, before you groan about semantics, hear me out.

What’s the difference? 

Everything.  Checking your email is that masturbatory thing you do when you are board, nervous, procrastinating, not clear on what you should be doing or something else that you should replace with a better habit.

your mail is something you should do as often as your job requires and no more.  It involves prioritizing, filing, planning, answering, and executing – and in that order.  Notice, no checking.  Put simply, checking email is re-active, wasteful, inefficient and brain numbing. Processing email, on the contrary, is proactive, efficient and a hugely important skill to develop since we spend more than one quarter of our day working with email.  At least that’s what Mckinsey reports.

Factory- or TV-mindset

People who check their mails have the mindset: Hmmm, I wonder what’s new?  People who process their mails have a factory-worker mindset:

  1. Prioritize and file;
  2. Plan and Do.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

Don’t like the idea of having a factory worker mindset?  Why, because you prefer your TV-zapping mindset instead?

Isn’t that what you do, clicking on each mail as if you were checking what’s on TV?

News, zap, commercial, zap, commercial, zap, something to check later, zap, commercial, zap, something I should have done last week, zap, commercial, zap, zap, zap…

The factory-worker mindset wins because your inbox IS a factory.  It’s about doing the same thing over and over again.


You might be creative in how you write, but email management is factory work.  That doesn’t mean it’s boring.  As a matter of fact, once you accept the concept, a new world opens up.

But getting back to the magic number, generally speaking, if you work in customer service (normally high urgency), you’ll need to process your inbox at least once per hour – and probably a lot more than that — unless you use a ticket system.  If you’re a programmer (normally low urgency), probably twice a day will suffice.  That means if you process your email more than 10 times a day (that’s right, day, not hour) it’s either because you don’t have an excellent method and tool that allows you to stick to a process (tah-dah!) or you’re searching for one.  In the meantime, processing your email three times a day for most workers is probably not a bad goal. Just don’t confuse processing with checking.

Michael Hoffman

CEO, LeanMail