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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. thegreenlantern

    Regarding replying, I agree with not putting off a reply when first opening a mail. However, the most overlooked button in email apps is SAVE DRAFT (google SAVE) . Not sending straight away takes pressure off your composition and frees your writing style. Your drafts are automatically foldered waiting for you to hit the SEND during your next scheduled email session, the digestion time will improve even the simplest emails and often allows you to reconsider and avoid many gaffs. After trying this, if you find yourself aborting many unnecessary messages in the review, you know you had been an addict.

  2. If it hasn’t been cited already, here’s a tool I just discovered to monitor and restrict your surfing:


    What do you think about it ?


  3. The more I think about this post, the more I believe we could think about our choices of activities in a more positive way. Rather than assume something is wrong with what we do, we could our choice as an an opportunity to evolve away from the temptation to judge and criticize. Evolution invites you to shift your thinking to realize everything we do is sending us meaningful messages. Why not learn to love your energy, your enthusiasm and see yourself in different kinds of positive light?

  4. Another solution is to have more interesting non-email tasks to keep you engaged. Like the person that constantly clicks between TV channels, you have to be bored to get around to checking emails frequently. If I’m fascinated by another activity, email becomes more of a drag. If I’m bored and looking for a reason to avoid a task, email is that reason.


  5. Sometimes addiction is caused by the newness of the technology. But when we are used to it. The effect is lessen and things become ordinary.

  6. Yuu

    I wanted to write a com.. hey, by the way, there seems to be an unread email in my inbox. I’d better check whether it’s spam.. I’ll be right back..

  7. Hai Guest,

    I am actually new to comment and my question is are you trying to take Addiction treatment and get recovery resources for you and your family? If you want to try, please use this site.


  8. I’m an e-mail addict to. Shifting between home computer, laptop, my Blackberry … I check my mail almost every minute or so when I have those tools near me. I’ve reduced me e-mail checking frequency to every 15 minutes now, still bad I know. I’ll try to use some of your tips … Thanks again for the good article.

  9. indeed, there are several sufferers of this email crazed condition… i admit i all into the category, but all is well

  10. I am glad that not alone in my e-mail addiction. Why we cannot live without constant checking e-mails. Probably your tips will help to reduce or get rid of this addiction!

  11. Catching-up on the reading today, and I discovered this article in your feed. Great ideas! I’ve been using one method that really isn’t all that “useful” and that is hitting the delete key. A lot. I love email, too, because I love to communicate. But who has the time? I’ve also been unsubscribing to a lot of garbage I get.

  12. Great article on one of the most under-recognized productivity drains within today’s business world. Whether you work in the corporate world or are a solo entrepreneur….it simply doesn’t matter….

    Our studies have shown that over 90% of people are wasting productive time each day due to e-mail and many of these same people are literally addicted to e-mail.

    Our program relies heavily on the “outsourcing of your e-mail” as you mentioned in one of your points. We’ve proven over and over again that once you realize that you have a problem, there’s a relatively simple yet effective solution to managing your e-mail.

    EXAMPLE: I’ve personally reduced my e-mail time from 2 hours & 25 minutes per day to UNDER 20 minutes each day using

  13. Shashi

    Today, My manager gave kind of warning to me on my emails. I continued lot of mails which weren’t supposed to continue. I was arguing with my boss, I am not getting reply’s for my emails from the team.
    You know every 5-10 minutes my eyes will look for outlook on my machine. I didn’t realize until reading this article on my problem, instead I used to complain my team why you are not sending me emails(responses). There are some occasions like speaking to the team to understand why they didn’t send me replies.

    Ohhh. God…. I have gone MAD…!!!

    I started searching yesterday, on Emailing-tips. While googling (I have good searching abilities, lol ) I come across various articles, which gave lot of tips (Thanks everyone!). But this article clearly brings out on my negative character.
    Thanks Tina…!!! You saved my life! :)

  14. dev

    My will be make a wallpaper that contain the advice that u think and learn from other and make it ur own desktop wallpaper. it make easy to notice cause we always in front of computer.

    or write down the advice and turn in to sometime that scold yourself to motivate yourself like “if u waste 30 minutes a day in reading email even though u know it will not has email in the next minutes, u wasting 2100 min a week where this 2100 minute u can use to learn some other thing, idiot”

  15. ???????? ??????, ?? ? ??? ???? ? ?????? ????? ???? ?? ????. ????? ???? ?? ?????? ?? ???????, ????? ? ???????? :)

  16. Great Article…especially the tips on Detox Days and Journaling. I highly recommend both! The Journal feature in Outlook is a great tool for figuring out where all your time is spent…but most people don’t even know it’s there or how to use it.

    I also recommend getting off as many lists as you can stomache. If the world catches fire…trust’ll hear it somewhere else first! If it’s not ESSENTIAL reading…Detach, Delete, Unsubscribe!

  17. Well, I think for some of us there’s a more serious problem of real addiction, where you simply cannot stop. Like when you quit smoking and you’re grubbing around in the trash for cigarette ends to smoke. I know I have an addictive personality, and nearly 20 years ago I found ways of quitting both smoking and alcohol that worked for me, but of course the key there is total abstinence.
    But with process addictions like email checking, how can you have total abstinence when email etc is an essential tool?
    Maybe the word addiction has been watered down and is becoming more synonymous with obsessive or compulsive behaviour, but I’m using it in the hard-core sense where tips and tricks and time management techniques etc just don’t work because it’s the primitive brain that’s running the behaviour. The pleasure, anticipacion and reward circuits have got wired into a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Many people today are hooked on email and other online activities, but for those people who have hard-core addictive tendencies… what do we do?

  18. I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This piece of writing
    posted at this website is really good.

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