The Hidden Costs of Email Addiction and How I Finally Kicked the Habit

“Hi my name is Shir, and I’m an email-aholic.”

At least, that’s what I would have said 3 months ago.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Just got out of the subway? Let me check my phone.
  • Waiting in line at the grocery store? Maybe I’ve got a new message.
  • Walking down the street in the most exciting city in the world? I thought I felt a vibration, it must be a new email!

Let’s be honest for a moment (after which we can immediately return to our natural state of deception?), 85% of the emails we receive are either unimportant or completely useless.

I’m not even talking about spam. I’m talking about social media alerts, Groupon deals, newsletters we’re no longer interested in, replied-all email threads, and the list goes on. Yet, our default settings on our phone still behave in a “oh oh oh! Pay attention to me!” fashion.

Louis C. K. talked about the downside of smartphones during his appearance on Conan O’brien. Take a few minutes to watch it.

Have we really become so desperate to avoid feeling lonely that we’ll check our phones 100+ times per day?

Speaking from personal experience

I remember how strong the desire to check my phone was. After all, receiving email meant “someone is thinking of me!” right?

It got so bad that I felt like Pavlov’s dog whenever the email alert came in. Whether it was a *bing*, vibration, or email counter increasing in number, I immediately began salivating (metaphorically of course).

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I was talking about it with my friend Georges Janin, and I decided to make a serious change. Part of the impetus for it was the disappointment that came from checking my phone every 5 minutes, only to find that I still had “no new messages.” I felt more and more pathetic each time.

I knew that if I didn’t create some kind of system, my will power would cave in under the weight of temptation. And why waste all that energy anyway?

It was official! No email during the hours of 12 pm and 9 pm

Why 12-9 you ask?

Well, I already know that I’m most productive between the hours of about 12 pm – 2 pm and then again from about 3 pm – 5 pm. So, in order to optimize my day, I needed to make sure those times were off limits. Nighttime on the other hand was perfect because I could still check email even when tired.

Some of the benefits of this arrangement

  • Wake up in the morning to a batch of emails, which serves as a nice way for me to start the day.
  • Eliminates the biggest distraction during my most productive hours during the day.
  • Helps me achieve my Wildly Important Goals (a.k.a. WIGs) faster.
  • After a day of being productive, I get to reward myself at 9 pm with checking email, which have accumulated to a much larger number than they would have otherwise.
  • No more disappointment of checking my inbox to find “no new messages.”

I really look forward to 9 pm because I’ll have more emails accumulated to process at once. It’s a much better use of my time to batch email in this way. There are many people talking about the benefits of batching, but Tim Ferris was the first that really illustrated that point for me.

Here are 2 of his blog posts on the topic:

I know what you might be thinking

“But Shir, that’s crazy, I can’t have a 9 hour email blackout during the day!”

Pull yourself together and stop making excuses! (I yell because I care) You don’t need to do it as long as that. You can find 1 or 2 times during the day that make the most sense for you to check your mail. Right after lunch perhaps?

The exact steps to follow if you have an iPhone (before iOS 7)

  • Turn off sound alerts
    • Settings –> Sounds –> New Mail –> None
  • Turn off vibration alerts
    • Settings –> Sounds –> New Mail –> Vibration –> None
  • Remove counters from the app buttons
    • Settings –> Notifications –> Mail –> [Individual Email Account Name] –> Notification Center = Off, Alert Style = None, Badge App Icon = Off, New Mail Sound = None, Show Preview = Off, View in Lock Screen = Off.

By the way, I recommend going to the Notification center and turning off all Badge App Icons for all your apps.

The Key Takeaway

I always respond to emails that are actually important in less than 24 hours. Nothing truly important slips through the cracks. And in the meantime, I have gained so much freedom. I am no longer a slave to my inbox!

Your Turn

Don’t forget, you could start small with a 2 hour email blackout period. You don’t have to go for 9 hours at a time like I do. The cool thing is you can use it as a reward for yourself once you finish what you need to (For more on how to use rewards, check out my post: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rewards). Either way, be sure to share your experience in the comments.