By Ellen G. Goldman
When I was a child, I loved running to the door whenever I heard the mail carrier arrived. I would stand there waiting to grab the envelopes before they were stuffed into the mailbox. I didn’t want to waste a minute.
I couldn’t wait to see if there was anything exciting or unexpected for me. Most days, admittedly, there weren’t. But, occasionally a birthday invitation or a letter from my grandma would surprise me and make my day.
Monday through Saturday, once a day, I delighted in the potential that delivery might bring.
These days, I barely notice when mail gets shoved through my door slot. If it weren’t for my dog’s barking, I wouldn’t even know it had arrived.
That rush and thrill of the unknown are now experienced innumerable times each day. All I have to do is look at my inbox. Whether at my computer, my tablet, or my phone, anywhere, anytime, “You’ve got mail” can light up the pleasure zone in my brain.
However, that trigger leads to an addictive habit—checking email regularly throughout the day.
As an entrepreneur, this habit is non-productive, and a stress-inducing pattern that I have had to learn to control.
Indeed, research proves that the pleasure zone in the brain that lights up every time a gambler, alcoholic or shopaholic reaches for their fix is the same one in our brains when we check our emails. And, the more we do so, the more we have to do so, to receive that same pleasurable sensation.
Many business professionals might argue with me when I say constantly checking emails is a problem. They’ll tell me it’s convenient always to have access to emails wherever and whenever you want. And, how great it is to be instantly able to respond to customers, or get caught up on the latest industry news.
I can only tell you what the research is finding, and what I saw happening to me and so many of my clients when email became an addictive habit.
When the first thing we do each day is read our emails, even before getting out of bed, inadvertently, we hand over our day’s agenda.
Most emails are requesting something from us: a response to an inquiry, a decision to purchase something, or to read the important news we think is urgent for us to know.
Rather than attending to what is most important to us and our business, we find ourselves going down the rabbit hole; we are responding, reading, or looking at info that’s relevant to someone else.
Although surveys and studies indicate the average adult checks their emails approximately 15 times a day, for many, it could be way more. The Relevancy Group is a market research company which measures consumer and executive behaviors. They found 66% of online consumers check their email account multiple times per day, with 13% of online consumers checking their email hourly or more frequently. We are diving into the inbox all day, every day; it’s no wonder we feel like we are drowning in email.
With all these emails staring at us, our brains receive the subtle message that we have so much to do. Others are waiting for a response from us. It’s stressful! And time-consuming!
Respond immediately to email, and you will find you’ve turned your attention away from whatever else you were working on, or intended to work on. Don’t respond, and the pile just gets larger and larger causing us to feel out of control.
Our to-do list gets longer each time we try to attend to those unread emails. Or the ones that have been sitting in our inbox for weeks. FOMO (fear of missing out) increases, so we don’t delete it. We tell ourselves we’ll get to that when we have the time.
Sometimes, we check email hoping it will direct us towards what to do with our day, rather than proactively deciding what’s the most important task we should be working on.
Or worse yet, we use email to procrastinate. When there’s something that we don’t want to do, it’s amazing what our brains can come up with to avoid doing what needs to be done. Email is such a great excuse! We tell ourselves, “I’ll just clean up the inbox first, and then get down to work.” Before you know it, hours have gone by, and now the message is, “There’s not enough time today. I’ll handle this tomorrow.”
When reading the same email we’ve looked at several times before, we are procrastinating making a decision.
We’re not sure how we want to respond, or if this is necessary info we’ll need in the future, or is this item something we may want to buy. Procrastination adds to our sense of anxiety and stress.
The research shows that the more we give into this addictive email habit, the more our stress levels increase. One study out of the University of British Columbia proved the opposite—less frequent email checks made people much happier throughout the day.
If we could break the habit of constantly checking our emails throughout the day, we’d reduce our stress, be more productive, and be happier! To me, it seems well worth it to try and do so.
Instead of responding to emails one by one as they roll in, set aside certain times of the day (perhaps morning, afternoon and night) to tend to messages. Doing so will help you feel more in control of the flow, and you won’t be switching back and forth between different tasks all day.
Are you ready to reduce your dependency on email, lower your stress, stop procrastinating and feel more in control of your life? If so, you need to learn some very specific strategies to deal effectively with this problem.
- Decide on an email schedule that makes sense for your business and your lifestyle.
Unless you are in customer service or another business in which responding to emails instantly is your job, almost everyone can reduce the frequency of diving into the inbox.
- Shut down your email program and all notifications about mail, and only have it open during the allotted times.
- Resist opening your email first thing in the morning. Exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, plan out the day ahead, and work on the most important project for that day for at least an hour.
- Develop a system to manage emails and keep your inbox relatively free. Train yourself to handle each email only once. Take care of it, delete it, delegate it, or file.
- Unsubscribe to all emails that you never get around to reading or you know cause you to waste time. If unsubscribing makes you uncomfortable, remind yourself that you can always resubscribe if you find yourself missing them in the future.
- Create a “read later” folder for the newsletters you enjoy and that bring value to your life. Move those emails immediately out of your inbox, and know when you will get to them. Clean that folder out at the end of each week. Take the time to either read or delete those you haven’t gotten to.
It took me a while to wean myself off of constantly checking my emails and to come up with a system that works for me. Truth be told, sometimes I waiver.
But when I do, I quickly notice I am procrastinating getting important stuff done, and my stress level is increasing along with the number of emails sitting in my inbox. So, I go back to basics and follow my system.
Now, I recognize that asking you only to check your email three or four times a day initially could cause you more stress! But, once you break this addictive habit and experience how much more relaxed and accomplished life feels, you’ll be so glad you did!
Aside from managing email, there are many more easy lifestyle habits you can implement to reduce your stress and increase your efficiency. Sign up below for the 52 Tips to create a calm, healthy, and productive workweek and life.