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.