You know you’re an email addict when:
- You check your email before going to the bathroom in the morning
- You click the “Get Mail” or “Send/Receive” button even after it says “No new messages,” just in case
- You peek at your emails as you wait for a traffic light to change
- You check email at least every 15 minutes
- You begin feeling anxious when you’ve been away from email for more than 4 hours
And, if you’re like me, you know you’re an email addict when you check email after completing any task before moving on to another.
I noticed that last habit, in particular, has stolen a lot of my personal productivity. I’ll be humming along, wrapping up a project, and just when I’m deciding what to do next, I switch over to email program. Thirty minutes later I jolt myself back wondering where I’ve been and where the time has gone.
Why is email so addicting? You don’t need a PhD in psychology to figure that one out. Just dig out your Psych 101 class notes about Ivan Pavlov. He’s the dude that demonstrated dogs will salivate to a sound of a buzzer when previously paired with the presence of food. The same conditioned reflex happens when we check email.
Email is the “surprise inside.” We can’t wait to open it up to see what we find. Mostly, it’s junk. But in the midst of all the Viagra and online dating offers, something delicious appears and we salivate. Perhaps we read that our project got approved, or that someone recommended us for something, or that a friend will be coming to town. Or, maybe we discover (or rediscover) that we’re critical to the survival of mankind, because we’re the only one that can put out some fire.
As email addicts, we keep looking for the hit—and in so doing end up going down rabbit trails of endless hyperlinks to videos, blog posts (perhaps this one!) and other morsels that keep us away from our intended actions. A simple check to “stay on top of email” can create a cascade of distraction.
As appetizing as the email hits are, I’ve grown fed up with the resultant distraction. So earlier this week I committed myself to a simple three-step recovery program:
- Admit my problem. Hi. My name is Leary. This post is my confession.
- Close my email program until I use it in a Focus Block. The idea is to make processing email a specific task rather than a default behavior I do when I’m between tasks.
- Create a healthy default behavior that’s distraction free. It’s more effective to replace a behavior than to stop one. So I need a new default behavior to choose after I finish a project. My replacement behavior? Read from a book instead. An old fashioned paper book still satisfies my longing for new information but in a low distraction format (no hyperlinks). As a bonus, it supports another objective of mine to be a life-long learner.
I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how my recovery is going. In the meantime, I’d be delighted if you want to join me in this simple 3-step program. If so, leave a comment below. Maybe we’ll even form our own EA group.
What techniques have you found to curtail your email addiction?