E-mail management— How to slay your e-mail dragons

Sandra Gerth

Today our senior editor Sandra Gerth talks about how she learned to be more productive, a topic that is not only of interest for authors.

Most writers I know get a lot of e-mail—messages from beta readers, editors, publishers, readers, and fellow writers. Then there’s also a never-ending flood of writing newsletters, blog updates, social media notifications, and messages from e-mail lists. On any given day, I get about one hundred e-mails.[/ezcol_2third_end]


When I gave up my day job to write full-time, I wasn’t as productive during the first weeks as I thought I’d be. Sometimes, the day just got away from me and I didn’t get around to getting any writing done until the day was almost over. After a while, I sat down and tried to find out what went wrong on those days and how they were different from days on which I did get a lot of writing done.

I quickly realized that on productive days, I hadn’t checked my e-mail in the morning. When I start the day by checking e-mail, it completely derails my day. And I’m not the only one. It’s such a common problem that there’s even a book titled Never Check E-Mail in the Morning by Julie Morgenstern. It’s just too easy to get sidetracked by interesting links, attachments, or other people’s requests. Before you know it, hours have gone by and instead of sitting down to write, you have slipped into web-browsing mode or have started working on other people’s to-do lists instead of your own.


So, how do you avoid letting e-mail kill your productivity? Easy: never check your e-mail first thing in the morning. Get some writing or other important tasks done first.

Also, don’t check e-mail last thing before going to bed. Before you know it you’ll get so involved in whatever messages have arrived that you’ll stay up longer than you wanted.

Instead, check your e-mail at set times each day. For most people, checking e-mail twice a day will be enough. For instance, once around noon and then again in the afternoon, when your energy level dips and you wouldn’t get any writing done anyway. Let people know that you’re changing your e-mail habits and at what times of the day you usually check your e-mail. They’ll get used to it and stop expecting immediate responses.

© Alphaspirit | Dreamstime

© Alphaspirit | Dreamstime


For some people I know, constantly checking their e-mail is almost a compulsion, and they feel compelled to open each message as soon as it arrives. It’s almost like a Pavlovian response: they hear the ping of an arriving e-mail and immediately check. To avoid becoming a slave to your in-box, turn off notifications—not just on your computer and your laptop, but also on your cell phone, your tablet, and all other devices.


Whenever you log into your e-mail, be clear of your purpose. What is it you want to do? Answer yesterday’s messages? Check to see if you got your manuscript back from the editor? Open your e-mail program, do what you wanted to do, and log out without getting sucked into anything else.


If you still feel you’re spending too much time in your in-box, try using a timer. Every time you log into your e-mail, give yourself fifteen minutes. When that time is up and the timer goes off, close your e-mail program.

Sandra Gerth is a writer and an editor who divides her time between writing her own books and helping other writers revise and polish theirs. She’s also the author of a series of books for writers and will be holding master classes during the first Lesvos Lesfic event in June 2016

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  1. Karen Wolfer April 28, 2016 at 19:25 - Reply

    This is perfect! Great advice. Yes, this is exactly what happens to me when I read emails in the morning (and get on Facebook). Time slips by before you know it. I will definitely try the techniques mentioned here. I thank you, and am now signing off to go edit! 🙂

    • Sandra Gerth April 28, 2016 at 21:52 - Reply

      Thanks for reading! The Internet is a great blessing, but also a curse, if we’re not careful. We follow one link…and half an hour later, we find ourselves on YouTube, watching cat videos 🙂

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