How to Kick Your Email Addiction Once and For All

email-addictionI just realized that I’m addicted to e-mail.

Are you?

I check my email constantly. A corner of my eye is always on my inbox.

When something new appears, I’m sucked away from whatever else I’m trying to get done.

And I don’t like it.

My email addiction adds up to feeling empty and unsatisfied because though I work all day, I don’t get much done that feels like it amounts to anything significant.

Test if You’re Addicted to Email

Try my little email addiction test. Ask yourself:

    1. Do you check your email all the time?
    2. Do you leave your mail program open on your desktop all day?
    3. Does each new email make a little noise? And do you feel a tiny jolt of energy when you hear it?

If you’ve said yes to each of these questions, then you might as well admit that you’re an email addict, too. And believe me, that’s NOT good.

Why is Email Addiction Bad?

Because email addicts are at the mercy of whatever comes into their inbox.

Email addicts react to what’s urgent rather than focusing their attention on what’s important. And their ability to focus their attention for more than a few minutes at a time gradually erodes, leaving them quite unable to get any serious work done.

And here’s what makes it really bad…

If you give in to your email addiction day after day, you’ll probably end most days feeling unsatisfied.

You’ll have worked all day and been in touch with dozens of people. You’ll have taken care of many urgent small matters. But you won’t have accomplished much that’s satisfying because most things that are satisfying take more concentration than we email addicts can usually muster.

It feels lousy to work hard and accomplish little!

6 Steps to Cure Your Email Addiction

Here’s my new homegrown remedy for curing your email addiction.

Note for you Twitter and Facebook addicts — these steps will also work for your social media addiction.

1. Turn off the alert.  Turn off that darn e-dinger. No more audio alert when you get a new email! No more salivating like Pavlov’s dogs!

2. Keep it closed.  When you’re not actively checking your email, close it. Don’t let it sit on your screen where you can glance at it.

3. Set eMail check times. Set specific times in the day to check email. Limit each session to a specific amount of time, 30 minutes for example, and then shut it down.  It’s okay if you check multiple times a day as long as you time each session and shut it down after you’ve checked it.

4. Tell others.  Let your colleagues know that you are changing your habits so they don’t wonder what happened when you don’t respond instantly.

5. Make an action list.  Every morning before you open your email, make a little list of things you want to get done that are important but not urgent.  (See more about this wonderfully useful distinction.)

6. Feel satisfied.  Every evening, check your list of important things and notice what you’ve accomplished.  Then, notice the sensation of feeling satisfied.

Increase Your Attention Span

There’s ample evidence now that your brain has ‘plasticity.’ That is, it actually grows and changes to accommodate the way you use it.

As you spend more time working on tasks that take more than a few seconds, you’ll find that in just a few days your attention span will start increase. First you’ll focus for a few minutes, then an hour and then you’ll find yourself engrossed in something for an entire morning.

What will be the results?

You’ll be more productive, happier, more accomplished and probably even more successful. And because your happier, your friendships and partnerships will be more fun.

And yup — you might even get thinner, smarter and more beautiful. (Just kidding!)

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Kick the Email Habit

Take a close look at the way you use email. Do you control it? Or does it control you?

If you’ve got a bad email addiction, try the suggestions in this post to shift the balance in your life. Choose greater productivity over the constant pull of email and focus on what’s most important rather than what appears to be urgent. Often that sense of urgency is more in your head than not.

Share any strategies you find helpful in taking back control of your life from the incessant pull of email or social media. Thanks in advance! Can’t wait to see your suggestions!

  • Amy Eisenstein

    Great post, Andrea! Me too! I’m going to kick the habit. And, I’m secretly thinking that I may have helped spark this post!

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Gotta confess, Amy. Your great talk in North Carolina really was the inspiration! I haven’t started losing weight yet ;), but I really am working on my e-mail habits. Thx for the great talk and the inspiration!

  • Kathleen

    A few months ago, I turned off the email alert on my computer (it was a noise and a little box that popped up in the bottom right-hand corner of my screen). I was instantly so glad I made this small change. It made it so much easier to focus on writing assignments. I like the idea of email check times but I’ll need to think about that one a bit more to figure out if I could make that work.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Yes, setting email times turns out to be challenging. Or, perhaps more accurately, changing people’s expectations is not so easy. But I’m convinced that it’ll be helpful to make the shift to not being quite so responsive and accessible.

  • Sawyer Davis

    I do believe that being controlled by an email account is bad, but however my question is what if that is one of the best ways to communicate with someone. A lot of people have jobs, schooling, or other activities where they are responsible for there emails. I do think it is bad to be Addicted to your email, but I am just wondering how I am suppose to go through email rehab when I am responsible for everything people send me? I am a college student who gets at least 30 emails a day, and send maybe 15. I have tried only checking it 4 times a day, but then I realize how much I have to do and it stresses me out. It also seems like Teachers get together, and decided to email us students at the exact same time, and no one knows what time that will be. It is like a bomb just being dropped on us all at once. What is a good way to kick my email addiction without effecting my school life? I do believe I am an email addict, but I just don’t know how I can become not addicted and still go on with my normal life.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Hi Sawyer, I struggle with the same issues. If I don’t respond immediately I feel out of control. In fact, today I looked back through the emails that had piled up and realized that I hadn’t responded to something important.

      If you have some good suggestions I’d love to post them, so let me know!
      Thx for your comment!