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How to Delete Email Addiction

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I have a secret: I am an email-holic, and I am addicted to email.

Despite persistent drive to improve my productivity and personal efficiency, I am hooked on email, and occasionally social networking sites like facebook. I have read countless articles on the topic, including Tim’s 4HWW. Each time, I would get inspired, follow it for a few days, and eventually fall back on my routine of checking email, every spare moment.

I would be writing an article or in the middle of work, my mind would wander and my hands would automatically fire-up my email inbox. If my inbox was full, I’d spend the next hour answering emails or reading links from emails. But, even if I didn’t get any emails, I would start visiting another site I frequent, or I’d check my web stats. Thirty minutes or an hour would go by. I would realize how much time I’ve just wasted and I’d think to myself, “Ahhh! Crap! Shoot me! Okay, I better get back to what I was doing.”

Does this sound familiar? Can you feel my pain?

If not, then perhaps you’ve already mastered the art and self-discipline of email productivity. In which case, please help a girl out and share your tips. Some of the best tips show up in the comments :)

Why Do We Become Email-Holics?

 

  • Personal Insecurities – Receiving emails gives us the perception that there are people out there wanting to talk to us. The demand for our attention helps us feel liked, desired, loved. We all want to feel important and that we fit in with our friends and family. I believe this is the number one reason for email-holic behaviors.For example, do you remember how excited you were when checking your inbox to find new messages? Similarly, do you remember that subtle feelings of disappointments when you haven’t checked your email for a while, and found nothing new in your inbox? This is not wrong, it is part of our innate needs is to feel loved and connected with others. This feeling is natural, and we often do not try to solve the root cause by understanding it more deeply.
  • Small Costs Add Up – Most of us are surprised when we get our credit card bill at the end of the month. How did it get so high? All I spent money on was groceries and restaurants? When we feel like we need something this moment, we fail to recognize what the cumulative cost it will be, when we look back on it, later. The same theory applies to our use of time. When I want to check my email, I think to myself, “it’s only going to take a second. It’s not going to slow me down at all!”. Even when checking my email does only take a minute, when I do it thirty times a day, I’ve suddenly wasted more than thirty minutes.
  • Fear of Failure or Change – As we are working towards a personal or collective goal, the future is often unknown and requires that we change our otherwise comfortable lives. Despite this change often resulting in a better life situation for us, our ego resists this. It injects fear in our inner space, and we start to unconsciously and secretly welcome distractions that take our attention away from our tasks. This is why we sometimes find it difficult to contribute action towards a cause that will improve the quality of our lives. Email is just one channel of such a distraction to delay action.
  • Lack of Purpose – Let’s face it, we get bored pretty easy in absence of a purpose. I believe boredom is one of the main reasons why many of us spend extra time checking email, browsing the web, and channel surfing. Even if we had a purpose, that purpose may not be clear and apparent enough in our minds. Which segways to the next point…
  • Lack of Awareness – When we do things without awareness (and this happens to me often), it feels like watching your world float by, behind a layer of foggy glasses. When we perform daily actions without much thought, we can easily become floaters and drift through the days. Trying to turn off our minds happens almost instinctually, and before we know it, the time has passed.
  • Habits are Comfortable – Checking email is so easy and comfortable. It’s so much easier to do than say, going to the gym or write a thousand word article on Email-holics. :) What we repeat over and over becomes automatic actions and forms our habits. If we check email over and over due to the instant gratification that email provides, it becomes a habit.

 

 

Email-Holics Rehabilitation Recipes & Tips

 

What can email-holics do to help themselves? Great question! As I am trying to permanently habituate these changes into my life, I understand how tricky it can become. My advice is to introduce gradual changes, one step at a time.

  • Schedule & Time Ceilings – Give yourself a set time and duration for emails each day. It is much more efficient when we do things in batches. The set duration gives us a sense of urgency, which helps us accomplish more in less time. Consider using a timer.
  • Reply Immediately – Most of us have the habit of reading new emails, and then leaving them there to be replied later. I love reading new emails (makes me feel popular), but sometimes replying can feel like a chore. I’ve set out the rule for myself that I will only read new emails, if and only if I am willing to reply to it immediately. Leaving read emails that need attention not only adds to the load of tasks you have to complete, it takes up room in our inner space like physical clutter.
  • If I have more time, I could…. – What are some things you would love to do if you only had time? Be specific with the details. It even helps to write this down on an index card. Put this near your computer as a reminder that if you weren’t online, you’d have more time to do this thing. Use this as a motivator and reminder to not waste unnecessary time online.
  • Start an Email Backlog – Pay special attention to excuses of sending random quick emails. I find this thought the hardest to suppress. If I have an urge to quickly email someone, I’ve found it useful to make a note, and come back to it later. This helps me batch my emails together instead of losing sight of what I’m doing at that moment. I keep a notepad on my desk as an email backlog. As an example, I wrote down that I need to enter Sahala’s cell phone number in my phone, from his email.
  • Install GmailThis! – If you still find that you have to send email often, get the GmailThis! bookmarklette. This little tool allows you to send email via Gmail without opening Gmail in a full browser, so you don’t read your email. This has become really handy when I’m browsing and finds a page I want to send to my friends.
  • Turn Off Email Clients – Turn off outlook notification and keep your Gmail window closed.
  • Journal It & Observe It – Keep a quick journal record of your email-consumption habits. If you uncontrollably checked email, note down: the time, what were you doing before checking email, the duration that it took, and how you felt afterwards. This will give you some interesting insights into your email habit and habit triggers. This exercise aims to bring more conscious awareness into this habit.
  • Penalty Jar – if you’ve setup a rule like a max number of email checks per day. You can setup a penalty jar, such that you commit to deposit a dollar each time you violate your own rules. At the end of the week or months, count how much money is in the bar and donate it. If you don’t have the change, write yourself an IOU on a piece of paper and put in the jar.
  • Email Detox Days – Spend a day each week without ever checking email, period. Do this for a few days and you’ll realize that the world really can continue without you replying to emails.
  • Outsource – If you have the extra resource, consider hiring someone to check your emails. This is not a bad option if you have more than 10 personal inbound emails a day.
  • Reward – set out rewards ahead of time for yourself if you’ve reached a measurable goal to reduce email consumption. Some examples of rewards include: your favorite chocolate or sweet treat, a favorite meal, or spend more time at home with your loved ones.

 

Additional Email Organizational Tips:

 

  • Folders & Labels – Leaving all mail in the inbox looks messy and can make it harder to process what needs your attention. I like using the archive feature in gmail or create a separate folder called archive for processed emails. Here’s a simple technique I use to organize emails. I use have additional folders/labels to organize emails to keep things organized and easy to find when I need. I pretty much have a folder for every repeatable thing I do. The following are some labels I use in Gmail and folders I’ve created in Outlook:
    • Family – For family related conversations.
    • Travels – Where I keep all flight receipts and hotel bookings. This is a fast way to quickly access travel information when I need.
    • Contacts – containing phone and address information of friends.
    • BlogPosts – contains rss feeds delivered via email. I setup filters to sort it in here automatically.

     

     

  • Filter, filter, filter – try to automate the processing of any repeated, auto-generated or low-value emails such that you don’t even see them coming in the inbox. Most email clients have rules that you can setup to filter by things like, sender email, receiver email, and subject. For example, I have a filter setup to delete emails from flickr and facebook. I also filter out confirmation emails from shopping sites and other e-coupons.
  • Short & Concise – Keep emails short and concise. Remove filler words and get to the point.

I hope that you have found some of the above tips helpful. My goal is to check email 3 times a day (morning, mid afternoon and evening) for no more than 30 minutes each. As with replacing any old habits with new ones, the more you do them, the easier they will become. The more you adopt your new habits, the easier it is to remove the old.

You might be thinking, “That’s a lot to remember!” or “All that advice sounds great but it’ll be hard to do in reality.” Just tell yourself this instead; “Just because something seems difficult doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Start small, start today. Turn your plan into a system in your daily life, with regular reminders and rewards.”

It is also worthy to note that many of the tips here are not just subjective to emails, but other online and offline addictions such as facebook and television.

Why do you think we become email-holics? What are some tips that’s worked well in your life? We’d love to hear your voice in the comments. See you there.

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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101 thoughts on How to Delete Email Addiction

  1. Hi Tina,

    I came from your post from problogger. Great article there and articles here. I am new to blogging as well starting just 4 months ago with no experience.

    As far as my email, that is the first thing I check in the morning and always respond. It is done and over with and I feel good about it. I may check again early afternoon and evening just in case something important comes about that needs an immediate response.

    My addiction is blogging. I just can’t get enough of it. I read about everything from techie sites, to mommy blogs, to outdoor blogs.

    Great blog and thanks for your tips.

  2. I do not check email until two hours after I get up in the morning. That gives me time to post on my blogs, write and submit an article, and reflect on my day. Then I check my email and only read the ones I need and want to read. This has given me more time and energy for the things that are important to me. No more interruptions in the morning!

  3. Hi,

    I also knew about your blog from Digg and now from Problogger. Nice blog and keep up the good work! :)

    I’m not *that* addict, and replying emails is part of my job since I’m making customer support for my own products – anyway, the GmailThis plugin tip was really nice. Just installed it and it works like a charm.

    Also, I think one suggestion made by another blogger (forgot who), that was about delaying replies (for example, I reply now but the reply leaves 3 hours later) would be nice, so that the re-reply from the other party takes more to arrive and you won’t be exchanging emails like it was a chat room (Gmail’s fault I guess).

  4. CjA

    Do you have any more resources on this topic? Thanks!

    Fear of Failure or Change – As we are working towards a personal or collective goal, the future is often unknown and requires that we change our otherwise comfortable lives. Despite this change often resulting in a better life situation for us, our ego resists this. It injects fear in our inner space, and we start to unconsciously and secretly welcome distractions that take our attention away from our tasks. This is why we sometimes find it difficult to do contribute action towards a cause that will improve the quality of our lives. Email is just one channel of such a distraction to delay action.

  5. Well Its official, I am your newest fan!!

    I am finding a lot of useful info on your blog and time management is a big one!

    I am new to blogging and I will try to do like you, bring useful timely articles to my readers!

    Props to you, I love what you have accomplished and I look forward to adding value!

    Steven Barchetti

    Las Vegas NV

  6. Hi Tina, a very inspiring blog. I got some great tips from your article on how you attracted a lot of subscribers. A good choice of books too. I like your positive outlook. Maybe you could use a positive statement to help you with your email distraction, like: I am so grateful to get the important things done first and can then enjoy my emails and blogs”.

    All the best,
    Jim

  7. I feel like you are talking about me. When it came to email, I checked and rechecked daily. Recently, I realized what a waste it was. So, I put up a toolbar that notifies me everytime i get mail. But the rule that helps me is that I can only check my inbox when it says 10 =) Hopefully, I can work my way up to 20, then 50.

  8. It is really hard for me to stay off line because I am a freelance web-designer and the internet is my home. I know I have a problem
    I am seriously trying to be better at not being a slave to my impulses.
    I needed to read this article thanks for the advice.

  9. Tina:

    You did it again with another great, useful article! I’m most definitely an emailaholic, checking emails a million times a day. It’s so darn addictive. I’ve mentioned this article in my weekly gratitude post, grateful I found an article to help me battle this horrendous disease.

    I liked how you admitted that you were one yourself and then you told us not only how to deal with it but also why it probably happens. We all want to be loved, showered with attention. We eagerly await good news. Email is actually my gateway to the rest of the world for I almost never use the phone.

    Why? Because I’m deaf. While I have excellent speaking capabilities (I’m a motivational speaker by profession) and can speak on the phone, I have to use a special relay service who types in what the other party is saying. It’s time consuming and cumbersome. I find it much easier to communicate by email. Thus my addiction!

    I am posting the link-love tonight (Thursday night).

  10. great article tina..the “symptoms” talked about feels like me. cant live without emails..its the first thing i do whenever i get on my computer. . sometines its counter productive to my work..been trying to cut it out hope your article helps..also I first checked out the inspiring piece you wrote on Problogger..it drove me here. keep up the good work.

  11. I got here through someone that shared one of your posts in Google Reader and I’m loving your blog. I’ve got some serious e-mail addiction and I’ve been trying to get hid of it (specially after my boss talked to me about it), I’ll read this post again at home and try to apply your tips.

  12. Good grief – I have been struggling with this for years. And as my business grows – it only gets worse. If I start writing when I sit down at the computer before I check my email – I get anxious. So this article really hit home for me. It’s well done. *But just a little side note, email junkies are typically a little controlling and would probably never outsource it. Your other time-management ideas are more realistic. Also, I love the use of the comment-relish plugin. I installed it and will see how it works. I found you on problogger – and am really impressed with the growth of your blog.

    Much Success!

  13. Interesting article and great suggestions. Thanks for the GmailThis info – I’d never heard of it but it looks very useful.

  14. Hi Tina! Good post. It happens to me as well I have some rules, only two-three times a day, but after reading your post I see I was watching my email more times: my professional email, my personal, my blog, my trade account, the news… and then “Time is gone” For instance answering 25 emails x 5 minutes means “More than two hours!”, if you do it in several times you are getting out of focus many times and you lost your way.

    Productivity is science and it is also important to check your method often.

    Thanks. See you ;-)

  15. G’day from Down Under. Like others here I came to this site from Pro-blogger and this is a great site.

    What I hate the most about my work e-mail is when someone sends you an e-mail and they are just down the hall and are to lazy to get up and tell you something or even pick up the phone. I started telling people I will only check email first thing in the morning and before I leave work and the amount of e-mails decreased dramatically.

    Likewise my productivity during the day increased as well.

  16. Dear Tina:
    Regarding the outsourcing, how long will it be before Adam starts to become “Tina.”?
    One of the downsides to increasing popularity, eh?
    Nice problem to have!

  17. This is a very enlightening article. Its amazing how we develop habits unconsciously without being consciously aware of the underlying reasons for our behaviour. To learn why we reflexively do things enables us to deal with insecurities and opt to spend time differently.

  18. Tina:

    I feel your pain.

    What works best for me is this little tip: go to the upper menu, click “File” and check “Work Offline”. That accomplishes two things:

    1) You won’t be constantly interrupted by new email coming in, and

    2) The emails you send will go to an Outbox instead of being sent immediately. This has saved me many times when I’ve written an angry email in the spur of the moment, since I’ve been able to either erase it or tone it down later after having a change of heart. This is also a time saver because angry emails usually trigger a chain of responses that you will be forced to answer.

  19. jd

    Tina – I’ve created a slide deck, “The Zen of Zero Mail,” to share the practices I use to improve email habits for my colleagues.
    http://blogs.msdn.com/jmeier/archive/2008/01/14/the-zen-of-zero-mail.aspx
    Enjoy!

  20. I’ve been using RescueMe, currently in beta, to keep track of all my time and how it’s spent. It’s a little program that keeps track of all the software programs & websites I’m on during the day, and let’s me tag each one, so I can see how many minutes I spent on email or networking or blogging.

    The best part is that I can set “alerts” or “goals” for certain areas. I have it set up so whenever I spend more than 1 hour a day on email the program sends a text message to my iPhone that I’m over my limit.

    I had no idea that I’m spending over 20% of my time on email (thought I was much less than that, since I’ve been 4HWW etc.).

    Elizabeth

  21. I have reduced my e-mail subscriptions It takes nothing but time. Most of it wasted time.

  22. Hello Tina,

    thanks for your inspiring writings!

    I wrote a NonViolent Communication follow-up here:

    http://evolvingworker.com/2008/2/14/4-steps-to-overcome-your-online-addictions

    best,

    — Thibaut

  23. Thanks for this wonderful post.
    And hello Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, can you please give me a link from where I can download this RescueMe software. Googling has been of no use! By the way are you talking about RescueTime?
    Thanks

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