How to Stop Being Addicted to Email

Pretty much everyone can relate: email overload is public enemy #1. A new study recently discovered that the average employee spends around 4 hours per day processing their email messages.

Our inbox addiction has gotten so dire that the Washington Post created a calculator that estimates how much of your life you could waste on email. 47,000 hours is the total projection for how many hours the average worker will spend on email throughout their career. Quite a disturbing stat, huh? It’s clearly evident that we need to change our approach to email —and fast!—if we want to get back to focusing on the things that actually matter.

Understanding the psychology behind our email addiction and learning ways to build healthier email habits is key to being more productive and actually living outside of the inbox. Here are three ways to break email addiction, for good:


1. Adopt the Productivity Pyramid

Entrepreneur and bestselling author Seth Godin designed a productivity pyramid in which he outlines steps for increasing productivity. At the base of the pyramid, the most rudimentary method is to work harder and get better at completing your tasks.

As you keep climbing the productivity ladder, steps include seeking out people you can outsource your tasks to at a lower cost and invest in technology that boosts your output.

At the very top of the pyramid, he places the pinnacle of productivity - figure out better things to work on.

“It turns out that the most productive thing we can do is to stop working on someone else’s task list and figure out a more useful contribution instead,” Godin said. “This is what separates great organizations from good ones, and extraordinary careers from frustrated ones.”


2. Get Out of Constant-Response Mode

Of all the factors that keep us running on someone else’s to-do list, email is arguably the worst offender. When you spend all your time processing or writing emails, you’re not actively working on your own tasks.

“Email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, rather than send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international relations at Princeton. “If you are caught up on your email, your priorities are in the wrong place.”

Before you can take back your to-do list, then, you’ve got to resist giving into some of your most time-consuming email habits.


3. Shift Perceptions Around Email

Email addiction doesn’t just affect a select few. In a Huffington Post poll on work habits, 60% of respondents said they only spent less than two hours a day disconnected from email.

According to researchers, this addiction arises from a self-imposed sense of urgency around email. When workers believe messages must be dealt with throughout the day, it triggers an addictive reaction to incoming email.

But wait - there’s good news! If compulsive email checking is truly a self-imposed behavior, we can change it by shifting our perceptions.

Sure, you can’t simply flip a switch for this, but you can start by asking yourself what it might feel like if every message didn’t need to be answered within an hour, or perhaps a day. You can begin setting some boundaries for yourself around when and how often you’ll check your email. You can start to learn new methods for handling email more efficiently, like batch processing perhaps.

Don’t worry - it will take time to figure out the email organizational method that works for you, so you can finally break email addiction once and for all. In the meantime, you might even try out an email management tool that uses algorithms to identify what emails are important to you. You can even put this off until you’ve gotten some bigger, more important priorities out of the way - because life should always come before email.

Dmitri Leonov | VP of Growth at SaneBox

Dmitri Leonov is an internet entrepreneur, leading growth efforts at Sanebox. He has over 10 years of experience in startups, corporate strategy, sales strategy, channel development, international expansion and M&A.

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