Several people I know use e-mail like it is instant messenger. They keep it open all day and read every e-mail as it comes in. For me, this is horrible for productivity. Constantly changing gears from working on something to dealing with other things means I'm unlikely to make any real progress on a project. So, I only check e-mail a few times a day. People I work with know this so I've set the expectation. With a follow-up point that if there is something that needs to be dealt with urgently, they shouldn't e-mail me. Shoot me an instant message or call me.
One of the key reasons I treat e-mail like this is that in order to make progress on anything other than the smallest of projects, I need blocks of uninterrupted time. There is a nice three part entry over at 43 Folders that is right in line with my thinking on this type of stuff. From the introduction:
“Making Time to Make” is a 3-part series about attention management for people who do creative work. It’s designed to help you firewall the time and attention you need to get out of the lite communication business and into your studio.
For me, one long block of time is much better than two or more smaller blocks even if they add up to the same (or possibly greater) amount of time. The first part of the series has a quote from Neal Stephenson who shares the idea:
Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread out across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.
My favorite quote comes from the second part. "Put plainer, my sense is that western culture would be a damn sight poorer today if John Lennon had been forced to carry a goddamn BlackBerry." If you create things, it's well worth the read.