Ep. 167 How I Broke My Addiction to Checking Email
Do you ever find yourself checking your email inbox over and over again throughout the day? It’s so common among entrepreneurs, especially when we have customer service questions, discussions with employees/vendors/contractors, and other critical information delivered to us via email.
If you’re opening or refreshing your email more often than you’d like, it might be time to consider breaking the habit! Read on the learn how constantly checking our inboxes affects our brains and what I’m doing to break my email-checking addiction.
Reading on Vacation Led Me to This Face-Palm Moment
Before my recent vacation, I promised myself that I would not purchase a single book until I finish (or decide on) the books I have started or haven’t opened yet. And there’s A LOT of them!
I shared this promise to myself in Master Shopkeepers, and it caused an interesting conversation in our Facebook Group! It was humorous.
Members know that I’m working on this, and the jokes have been abundant. Members have been taunting me or trying to get me to justify buying books again. It’s all in good fun! Trust me, MSK members are hilarious.
While on vacation, I took three of those unfinished books with me. These books have been sitting on my nightstand for a year or longer.
I read (or really, skimmed) two of the three books. Neither caught my attention. But I am patting myself for shortening my unread book list by two.
Needless to say, neither of the first two books is hitting my recommendation list. But the third book, The 4-Hour Workweek, had a few nuggets that stuck with me—especially the idea that we should all have a system around checking our email inboxes.
Well, y’all know how much I love a good system. Systems are THE reason I can run two businesses, travel, spend time with my family, and have a good life!
As I was reading, though, an important realization hit me: although I have almost all notifications turned off on my phone, I’m still constantly IN my inboxes. And it’s an incredible waste of time.
What I’ve Already Done to Break My Tech Addiction
In Episode 49, How to Get Unaddicted To Your Phone, I shared some tips that have seriously helped me break other phone-related habits.
For instance, the only notifications I get on my phone are from one news source and text messages. That’s it. Everything else is turned off. All app and email notifications are turned off, too!
However, I spend a lot of time on my laptop, and the one tab that is always open is Gmail.
My New Email-Checking System (And How It’s Going So Far)
While I didn’t think my email-checking habit was that bad, the moment I tried to make a system, it quickly became apparent that I’m ADDICTED.
After vacation, I decided I was going to check my email just three times per day: in the morning when I wake up, late morning, and towards the end of my work day.
Plus, I set a time limit: just 30 minutes in my inbox each time. Are you gasping for air yet?!
As I write this, it’s April 3, 2023. It’s the first day I attempted to break my email-checking addiction…and following this new system was HARD. I realized that I must close that email tab. Having it open was too tempting.
I am determined to WIN this habit-breaking challenge.
What Constantly Checking Emails Does to Our Brains
Multitasking has been proven time and time again to not only affect your long- and short-term memory but also to impair executive function and increase stress levels.
Unsurprisingly, email is a known problem area when it comes to multitasking. As this Fast Company article states, “Email increases multitasking, thus fragmenting our attention and contributing to our feeling that there is so much to do and not enough time to do it.”
For me, checking my emails causes a lot of task-switching and multitasking. And that’s precisely why checking my emails makes me feel distracted, scattered, and fragmented. I bet it does the same for you, too.
The Dopamine Reward Cycle
Additionally, our brains have been trained to crave the dopamine release we get when we see a new email appear!
Not only does anticipating what’s inside an email trigger our dopamine reward cycle (like when we see the “1 New” badge on our email tabs!), but we also get a hit of dopamine when we open the email. Since dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone, our brains quickly learn that email makes us feel good—and start to crave email as a result.
Managing My Mind and Forming New Habits
So how can I get out of this dopamine reward cycle and become less addicted to checking my emails?
For me, it starts with getting my priorities in order. As I mentioned in episode 110, Don’t Manage Time, Manage Your Mind, I have to be incredibly savvy about my time to limit the number of hours I work each week.
I am 100% on board with the fact that I have 24 hours a day. I can’t change this, and I won’t live in denial or wish for more time. I also won’t lose or compromise my 7 hours of sleep.
That leaves me 17 waking hours a day, and I do NOT want to spend all 17 of those hours working. Two hours are for working out, and six to eight hours are for me and my family.
When I see that I only have 7-ish hours available for work each day, I’m reminded that I need to be very careful with how I use that time. Checking my emails is a time-wasting task that I need to manage more efficiently.
Our brains LOVE the norm, or what they think is the norm. They don’t want to change. But if I’ve learned anything over the past three years, it’s that I CAN retrain my brain (how liberating!).
In Episode 124, My 8 Favorite Business Books, I mentioned that Atomic Habits by James Clear helped me learn how to change my habits. I’ll keep working on my email-checking system and return to my notes from Clear’s book to see what else I can do to improve my email-checking habits.
How I’ll Retrain My Brain and Break My Email-Checking Addiction For Good
I titled this blog post as if I already broke this habit. I haven’t! But I love to talk about and create the future me. Future me is NOT addicted to email or wasting hours on this unproductive and inefficient habit.
So there you go: this podcast episode and blog post is a commitment to MYSELF. And if I can help just one of you get unaddicted to the black hole of constantly checking emails, I’ll consider it a win, too!
Let’s recap what I’m going to do to retrain my brain:
- All email notifications are off on my phone.
- The Gmail tab is CLOSED on my laptop until it’s time to check my email.
- Three daily recurring reminders are set on my phone. These reminders are what will now give my brain permission to check my inbox.
- I have a 30-minute limit, which includes filing emails into folders, deleting, forwarding, and responding.
- If need be, I’ll run the timer on my phone to hold me accountable.
What Habits Do YOU Want to Break, Change, or Form?
If it’s not email, what habit do YOU want to break or change? I know everyone listening right now is thinking of at least one habit that doesn’t serve them well. We can ALL create better habits for ourselves.
Checking my email less often doesn’t mean customer service isn’t important to me or that I won’t check and respond to emails promptly. But it does mean that I’m committed to both running two businesses to the best of my ability AND taking care of myself.
I value and respect my time—and no one else can improve my time but ME.
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
- Ep. 49: How to Get Unaddicted To Your Phone
- Ep. 110: Don’t Manage Time, Manage Your Mind
- Ep. 124: My 8 Favorite Business Books
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- [00:52] Reading on Vacation Led Me to This Face-Palm Moment
- [02:41] What I’ve Already Done to Break My Tech Addiction
- [03:20] My New Email-Checking System (And How It’s Going So Far)
- [05:27] What Constantly Checking Emails Does to Our Brains
- [05:55] Managing My Mind and Forming New Habits
- [08:45] How I’ll Retrain My Brain and Break My Email-Checking Addiction For Good
- [12:04] What Habits Do YOU Want to Break, Change, or Form?