5 steps to overcome Email addiction- Notes from a Reforming email junkie

Posted by in Career, Goals, Management, Personal Effectiveness



Courtesy: Dilbert

How true is the above cartoon? How many of us actually end up spending “full days at office” either attending meetings or responding or writing mails?  All a lot of work without actually getting any work done!

Every morning once when we get to office, the first thing we would do is to switch on the computer & look at the emails. Those who do not do this are typically those who risked life & limb by checking the mails on their “Smart Phones” while driving in to work or just when they were leaving their home.

This sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Most of the work day is defined by the mails you get and how you react to it. Many do this because they believe they need to be “on top” of things happening on the work front.  And it does not stop in the day.. it moves on to the nights as well.  How many times have you sent a mail at 1AM to receive multiple responses within the next 15-20 minutes? Bosses and other colleagues who are online and reply almost immediately at all times, add to the stress for most executives. The expectation is to be responsive 24×7.  The need to be online now takes a new meaning to prove to everyone that one is “committed” and responding “immediately”.  

With email becoming the norm in most workplaces, people have moved away from a “thinking and doing” mode to “Read & Respond” mode.  Fewer and fewer people actually think of strategy and are proactive- most are becoming machines that read and respond to mails- and therefore more reactive.  This cannot be good for the employees, and definitely not good for the employers in the long run.

On an average, it is said that an average employee gets around 150-200 mails a day. This goes up significantly as you move up the organization.

So the question is this. Does email- reading, writing and responding to it – immediately in many cases, constitute being effective in the job?

My personal view is NO. And it appears I am not alone in this this thought.

One key idea that most Time Management guru’s and Business Consultants advise is to cut the time spent on emails systematically. This will help in a) planning your day and b) Move away from a reactive thought process to a more proactive, strategy oriented thought process. 

Here are some tips that I use to try and get my life back-

  1. Avoid checking the email first thing in the morning and the last thing in the evening– Always keep the first 30 min to 45 min in the morning after coming in, free to plan the day and list out things that you need to do.  The last thing you do before you leave is to plan for the next day – and do a quick check on your mid and long term goals & list out things to do the next day. 
  2. Check mails only 2-3 times a day– Now this is the tough one. How many of you have your emails switched on & have this pop-up’s that announces every new mail that comes in. The natural tendency is to check who wrote & if serious, drop everything else and respond immediately. The first thing to do is to avoid being connected to mail ALL the time, when you are working.   Go off-line & connect to your email ONLY 2-3 times a day to check all incoming mail & respond to mails. This will be difficult initially.  How? First- Set aside time in your calender which is blocked as “Email Time”. This ensures that you go online and download mails & respond to mails only during this time.  Set aside around 30 minutes for every slot so that you respond to mails – and plan for any strategic activities that may come out of these mails- and plan to work on them during the time you are not connected.
  3. Think of other options before you email – Before you write a mail- think if you can handle it any other way?  First- do you need to respond?  If yes, can it be done on phone?  Write email ONLY if you really need to.  (Many of us have a need to put things on mail to CYA).
  4. Use Paper – Use a paper to write down your To-Do’s.  This simple task will make it easier for you remember things + get you away from looking at the computer to track all the to-do’s.  
  5. Try to be an email change agent -   If you do not expect any response- put it in the headlines “No Response Required”, or “Not Urgent”.  This will help your readers also plan their time at least on your emails.  Advise people on your plan.  Use the time you have gained away from email to do some innovative work.
  6. If you are a Version 2.0 of Email Junkism- i.e a Smartphone user- then ensure you tweak your phone settings to ensure that you do not get mails automatically.  Do it 3-4 times a day only and reduce it further as you go along.   Do not check your emails in the house on the smartphone! Home is time with your family – wife and kids.  Give them the time – and your complete attention. 

I realized early on that this is by no means easy.  Once you start doing this, you realize that email is like a drug! You really need to check the mail.  You will find yourself wondering what you are going to do when the mail is not on.  Stay withthis and force yourself to do some intense thinking on areas you have been avoiding.  Write rather than type. Another way is to take a step by step approach. Start by switching off the mail 5-6 times a day and then slowly bring it to control over a period of time. 

Once you get into a habit of checking your mail 2-3 times a day, you suddenly will have more time that you can use for a lot of other strategic things that you may have been avoiding regularly.

Like blogging regularly 😉

Try it out. You will be happy to get your life back…

Got to go and check my mail (it is time) 😉