Email inbox efficiency–can you go too far?

Email productivity is a goal of most people whom I know. We all receive and send too many emails.deep work carl newport book cover

But how far are you willing to go to trim the amount of time you spend on email? It’s the rare person who’ll go as far as Cal Newport recommends in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

Deep Work rule for email productivity

Newport suggests that you boost your email productivity with the following rule:

Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies:

  • It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
  • It’s not a question or proposal that interests you.
  • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.

He admits there are exceptions to his rules. For example,  he says you should reply “If an ambiguous message about a project you don’t care about comes from your company’s CEO.”

Could YOU apply this Deep Work email rule?

I can see how Newport’s rule boosts his email efficiency. I could dramatically cut my email volume if I ignored ambiguous emails. But I can’t envision myself applying Newport’s rule often. I need to respond to clients and prospects.

Your ability to apply this rule at work depends on your relative status and role in the company. If you’re a company’s top dog, you have more leeway than a lower-level person who’s serving clients.

Still, perhaps you can alter your behavior on the margin. I like how Newport’s book makes me question my assumptions about my daily work routines.


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