Blog Archive

5 reasons you’re addicted to email (and how to stop it)

Why do people check their email after work or on the weekends?
Have you ever asked that question? Of course you haven’t, because the work week sneakily became 7 days without most of us noticing.

Take out your phone right now. Look at the time stamp on some of the emails your coworkers sent. You’ll definitely see some from Saturday and Sunday. There will be a few from 4AM or 10PM too. Why does this happen? There are several reasons that I will now present in list from because people love lists.

1.We think being connected constantly is part of our job description.
Did your boss tell you that you have to work on the weekends and at night? Was that ever a conversation you had or did you just kind of assume it was something you were supposed to do. If your boss did sit you down and say, “Hey, we love these 40 hours you’ve been putting in but now we’d like you to work nights and weekends too for no additional money,” you would giggle inside and then find another job.
If they asked for 40% more of your week and offered you 0% more money, you’d spend 100% of your lunch hours job hunting. Yet somehow we all act like returning an email at 8PM or on Sunday isn’t a weird thing.
Solution:
Check the job description you were hired for. If you can’t find it, check your annual goals. If the phrase “work nights and weekends” isn’t in there, don’t.
 
2. It makes us feel important and valuable.
Being needed feels great sometimes. Look at me, I’m not even in the office right now but they need me so much they’re emailing me during dinner! And if I’m firing off emails with a time stamp of 6AM, maybe my boss will see them and think, “That Mike sure is a hard worker. He’s putting in hours before he even gets here. If the economy takes a down turn and we have to cut staff, I’ll remember that email Mike sent me at 6AM and make sure I take care of him.”
Solution:
Don’t look to email for your sense of self-worth and importance. Gmail was never designed with that feature.

3. We don’t want to fall behind.
I don’t know where you work or what you do, but you don’t want to “fall behind.” We’re not really sure what that means exactly but we know we don’t want to end up there. This happens especially when people go on vacation. Friends will tell me, “I’ll be out of the office on vacation, but I’ll still be checking emails.” Oh, so then you won’t be on vacation. You’re telecommuting from a slightly different flat surface than the one your laptop is on right now. When I ask why they’re checking emails on vacation they always say the same thing, “I don’t want to fall behind and have a billion emails to look at when I get back.” I don’t know why that’s even a problem because if there’s one thing busy people like to brag about it’s how many emails they have. In a mostly scoreless world, where white collar work involves pushing pixels all day, at least you can see who is most important by comparing the number of emails in an inbox.
Solution:
Start saying the phrases, “It will still be there in the morning” and “I’ll deal with that on Monday.” Say them so often that you actually start to believe them.

4. We think we can finish it.
Inbox zero is a stupid, stupid pipe dream. The more emails you send out, the more emails you get back. That’s how email works. It’s really the only example of renewable energy. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that is never finished, but some part of us thinks that if we can get ahead we will be able to finish. As soon as I finish this one thing, then I’ll be able to focus. You won’t finish it.
Solution:
Make a list of things that don’t have natural finish lines and make up your own. “Email ends at 6PM.” “Texts stop working on the weekend.” And then keep them.

5. We think we’ll miss something.
You’re not Batman. You don’t have a red phone that is connected to your house for emergencies. How many emergencies would you really miss? I found myself writing that in my out of office email message when I traveled. “If this is an emergency, please contact, …” What emergency did I imagine a Senior Content Designer in an IT department was going to be able to solve? Some graphic designer would email me during my long weekend and desperately need to know if he should say, “Choose from over 1,000 different rugs” or “Choose from more than 1,000 different rugs?”

This gets back to that sense of importance. I’m not that important. Neither are you. If you don’t check your text messages or email for a few hours, no one will die. Unless you’re a doctor. If you’re a doctor, you have to be on call, but you get to wear those amazing doctor scrubs all the time so there’s a tradeoff. Those things are the reverse of sweat pants. If you see a guy in his 30s at the supermarket in sweat pants you think, “Sad, unsuccessful, undateable.” You see that same guy in a pair of hospital scrubs and you think the exact opposite.

Maybe emergencies aren’t your concern, it’s all the opportunities you’ll miss if you don’t have an IV drip of emails and text messages. Please count up all the life changing opportunities you’ve received at 10PM via email for me. I’m talking about the ones that if you didn’t respond in 8 hours they expired. Go ahead and add up that list for me. Friends might text with tickets to a last second game, but rarely does a boss offer you a last second promotion. “Hey Linda, you’ve worked here for 3 years and I see you 5 days a week, but if you don’t respond to this text in the next 8 hours, this surprise raise is off the table.”
Solution:
Don’t answer email or text messages after work or on the weekend for 7 days in a row. Keep a list of all the emergencies and opportunities you missed. Laugh quietly to yourself when you realize that sheet of paper is blank.  

I’m not particularly good at turning off the phone or ignoring email on the weekend. And I fully recognize that there are some seasons where both are unavoidable.

But here’s what I know too. If you’re going to accomplish anything in 2017, it’s going to take time. And if you want some more time back in your life, stop working when the work day ends and don’t work on the weekend. I just gave you back 25 hours during your week and 34 hours on your weekend.
Do something fun with it.
Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling Author of five books, including his latest, DO OVER: Make Today the First Day of Your New Career. Follow him on Twitter @JonAcuff and read more at Acuff.me.