August 12, 2008

E-Mail Addiction

New York City's Daily Post reported recently that residents of the Big Apple, Washington D.C. and Atlanta tend to check e-mail more than residents of any other place. And, apparently, more women admit to e-mail addiction than men. (Although, based on what I've observed, I can't help wondering if this is more a reflection of (i) honesty in survey responses or (ii) actual practice.)

Given what we're learning about the inefficiencies of e-mail, that's a colossal waste of time. Here are some sad excerpts from the Daily Post's Report, based on the Third Annual AOL survey:
Of those surveyed, 59% percent of people who own a portable device, like a Blackberry or Treo, check email in bed while in their pajamas; 37% check it while they drive; and 12% admit to checking email in church.
According to the survey, the average email user checks mail nearly five times a day. Fifty-nine percent of those with portable devices check their email every time a new message arrives. Forty-three percent of respondents with portable devices say they keep it nearby while sleeping in case they get a message.

Fifteen percent of those surveyed consider themselves "email addicts" (16% of women and 13% of men), and many plan their vacations with email access in mind. About 40% of email users say access to email is "very" or "somewhat" important to them when planning their vacation; 83% of email users admit to checking their mail once a day while vacationing.

Thankfully, people increasingly are beginning to understand that e-mail is not always the right way to communicate. However, as with any addiction, the first step is admitting that you've got a problem. If you have any doubts about it, think about the last time you tried to sneak a peek at your e-mail. (According to the survey, 53% admitted to checking e-mail in the bathroom.) If you felt guilty -- you've got a problem. And, if you don't feel guilty, you may have an even bigger problem!

The next step is actually taking steps to reduce your exposure to e-mail (e.g., checking your e-mail at regularly-scheduled times rather than every time you receive a message). In addition, you need to find alternate ways to communicate that don't invade your life during and after business hours as much as e-mail. For example, using wikis or blogs to post information that people ask you for repeatedly by e-mail. Once it's centrally available, they can check that source rather than bothering you every time.

I know there will be some readers who really believe that checking e-mail constantly is an essential job requirement. That may be the case for a minority of us. But for the rest, consider the tough words of Mary McKinney, Ph.D. of Successful Academic Coaching:

In my experience, email is the most insidious, seductive time-waster we face.

In fact, for many of us, email is a pernicious addiction.

Checking and replying to our electronically-delivered messages seems like a necessary, innocuous occupation, but it is also a major form of procrastination. [emphasis added]

There's lots of advice and commentary on the web about how to manage e-mail better. Here is just a sampling:

- Seven Tips for Dealing with E-Mail Addiction
- Merlin Mann's irreverant series on managing your inbox
- Luis Suarez' reports on giving up work e-mail at IBM
- John Tropea's guidance on Re-Purposing E-Mail

Let me close by quoting Mary McKinney again:

The basic premise of these suggestions is that our email addictions preempt conscious time management choices.


1 comment:

Marsha said...

You are right. Too many people have given the power to their e-mail or to their blackberries.

What I have found is that even know people can intellectually understand that they should shut down their e-mail or their blackberries, they just don't do it, hence their labeling it an addiction.

The reality is, to take control, people need to focus on changing the unhealthy habits that have already adopted. Changing habits takes time and focus. It is not a quick fix. But... the returns could be huge.