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Check email first thing in the morning or not

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Posted by Chris Murtland
Nov 17, 2011 at 02:32 PM

 

If you are in a state of flow, totally engrossed in what you are doing, making good progress, and not stuck in any way, do you recommend checking email during that time?

For programming at least, I think you underestimate the role of conscious working memory in a flow state. Yes, there are subconscious things going on, but flowing with programming means you have totally loaded your conscious working memory with the word symbols of a conceptual machine (the program) - variable names, function names, class names, data structures, the interaction between these symbols, etc. There is no space left for linguistic or symbolic distractions, which is why I think checking email is a particularly bad type of distraction for programmers even if we were to assume that controlled distraction is beneficial. A better distraction might be tapping your fingers or looking at clouds. Because when you switch to email, you have broken the spell by switching back to English (or whatever human language you use), and then you have to reload the program model into your consciousness if you want to get back into the flow state. That’s just the type of work I know the best, but I’m guessing that the flow states of other types of work would still suffer a similar fate.

I’m suggesting that I can induce that flow state in the morning simply by not checking email and going right into programming.

Also, you say: “if you are getting a high volume of interruptive, urgent email, then perhaps you need to reorder your life so that you have more uninterrupted time blocks.”

Isn’t the decision to not check email for an hour or two here and there (including first thing in the morning), “reordering your life so that you have more uninterrupted time blocks”?

I’ve split off some thoughts about the task management aspect to a new thread.

 


Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Nov 17, 2011 at 10:26 PM

 

Chris Murtland wrote:
> I?m suggesting that I can induce that flow state in the morning simply by not checking email
> and going right into programming.

Same here for writing.

 


Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Nov 17, 2011 at 10:27 PM

 

Daly de Gagne wrote:
> One system which does offer a solution to this problem is Mark Forster?s Do It Tomorrow,
> with its notion of a closed list, and anything new (unless a genuine emergency or an edict
> from your boss) goes on tomorrow?s list (because today?s list is closed by the beginning
> of the day at the latest). It is a simple, very elegant approach.

Brilliant! Thanks for the heads up!

 


Posted by JBfrom
Nov 18, 2011 at 02:37 AM

 

“If you are in a state of flow, totally engrossed in what you are doing, making good progress, and not stuck in any way, do you recommend checking email during that time?”

No.

“For programming at least, I think you underestimate the role of conscious working memory in a flow state.”

It’s the same for complex writing.

“There is no space left for linguistic or symbolic distractions, which is why I think checking email is a particularly bad type of distraction for programmers even if we were to assume that controlled distraction is beneficial. A better distraction might be tapping your fingers or looking at clouds.”

You have to calibrate distraction magnitudes to the distance and duration needed.

“I?m suggesting that I can induce that flow state in the morning simply by not checking email and going right into programming.”

You can, but I prefer my mornings to be more about perspective, identity, appreciation, and then naturally moving into focused work on my highest objective. It all adds up to a relaxed transition that doesn’t require willpower exertion at any step, and is therefore more sustainable and lower stress.

“Isn?t the decision to not check email for an hour or two here and there (including first thing in the morning), ?reordering your life so that you have more uninterrupted time blocks??”

I meant something more along the lines of lifestyle design ala Tim Ferriss, where you reduce the volume and urgency of the email you receive.

 


Posted by Daly de Gagne
Nov 18, 2011 at 02:54 AM

 

I’m glad it resonates. Forster’s DIY has been very helpful for me. I think it is under-rated. He’s come out with other ideas since, but DIY is the best IMO.

Daly

Alexander Deliyannis wrote:
>Daly de Gagne wrote:
>> One system which does offer a solution to this problem is Mark
>Forster?s Do It Tomorrow,
>> with its notion of a closed list, and anything new (unless
>a genuine emergency or an edict
>> from your boss) goes on tomorrow?s list (because
>today?s list is closed by the beginning
>> of the day at the latest). It is a simple, very
>elegant approach.
> >Brilliant! Thanks for the heads up! 

 


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