Ok, let’s say, you are working on an important project and you get a notice that you have received an e-mail message. What do you do? Do you stop what you are doing to read the message, despite the fact that this can totally derail you from your current task?

Perhaps you get my point. Emails are controlling our lives more than we realize or want to admit.

Checking our email more than 3 times a day seriously impacts our productivity and is making our days of work longer and longer. But why then do we constantly check our email?

It all starts with understanding how dopamine is affecting our actions every day. You see, dopamine is a chemical produced in various parts of your brain that controls your mood, motivation and sense of reward. Just like a gambler, who experiences that “good feeling” (the release of dopamine) as they are sitting on that chair in the casino waiting to see what is next, we experience the same burst of dopamine when we can’t wait to check our email. The anticipation is greater than the reward: the urge to check that email is greater than the satisfaction we feel once we’ve read it.

Another reason why the release of dopamine can have such power over us, is that it likes unpredictability. Does that sound familiar? Thinking of our online habits. It is stimulated by uncertainty–not knowing what is going to happen next. It could be an e-mail, Twitter notification, new post on Instagram, a Facebook message, or even finding out who currently holds the Vevo World Record on YouTube. In any of these cases, until we check it out we don’t know how many “likes” we’ve received, who is trying to contact us, or what is the latest video gone viral. Dopamine loves that!

SO WHAT IS REALLY THE BIG DEAL?

When people say ‘gambling addiction’ or a ‘alcohol addiction,’ they really mean ‘dopamine addiction’ because it’s dopamine that gives people the urge to continue experiencing that “high.” Connecting the dots? Addiction to email and other technology based behaviors can be seen in the same light. It can seriously affect your:

  • Productivity
  • Attention span
  • Relationships
  • Stress levels
  • Level of connectedness

 

Most worryingly – NO research has been done into the long-term effects of dopamine on the human brain in the age of Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail.

WHAT CAN I DO?

The good news is that you can fight against this powerful biological force.

1) Self-awareness – For starters, it is crucial to understand your email usage. Rescue Time is a great software tool that will enable you to understand where you are spending your time on your computer. It is a great free tool.

2) Remove triggers – Identify the triggers that cause your email checking habits. The beeping sounds your phone makes when you you “have mail” might be a trigger. Remove the sound or change the setting on your phone so that it won’t show any new messages unless you click on the icon.

3) Develop a new system

  • Never check your email first thing in the morning! It sets up the day to be in “reaction” mode.
  • Setup specific times to check email. Decide to check your email 2-3 times a day max.
  • One of the keys to your success is to train others about your new way of checking email. Develop a message in your email signature. Here is an example: * Please note that I ONLY check my email twice daily (8am and after3pm). If you urgently need to get hold of me, please call my cell. Thanks!
  • Explore a way to stay out of your inbox daily. It is all great to decide checking your emails a couple times a day, but it is important to have a system in place that will allow you to stay out of your inbox. I use www.evernote.com. In the morning when I check my email for the first time, I first address all the “quick emails.” I email the bigger emails that will need more of my time during the day to my Evernote account. This allows me to look at these emails in Evernote later without needing to go to my inbox again. Then I can write a response and copy and paste it into email at 3pm later in the day.

 

4) Take a technology break!

  • Take a weekend off from your cell-phone. Dont touch it. Dont take it with you. Just leave it alone! See if you can do it. You dont need to be “on” all the time! I started doing this every weekend, and it has been amazing to feel that I dont need the thing next to me all the time.

 

OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES:

Are you really in control of your life?

How to check email twice a day.. or once every 10 days

Why our email addiction ‘is turning us into lab rats feeding on pellets of social nourishment’

 


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