Like all habits, the “habit” of email took time to develop.  We didn’t just wake up one morning and become addicted to it. First, it was magic…”Wow, I can just write a message to someone any time, any place and they’ll receive it without  my having to mail a letter…and then “Wow, they’ll respond to me as soon as they ‘get’ my message and I won’t have to wait hours or days for a call back or a mailed letter back.”

Then, email became a necessity, a fact of life, a constant essential for both staying in touch and for doing business.  It was so easy, so convenient, so accessible, so efficient. (I could “work” in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep and they’d have my work first thing in the morning.) And then we became addicted to it because sometimes, in the sea of emails we all send and receive 24 hours a day, emails gives us random rewards (a kernel of brilliance about a work project, a line of devotion from a lover, an alert about a meaningful activity) just as a slot machine does when we finally hit the jackpot after “wasting” all those quarters and all that time to get the jackpot.

Email, as well as other forms of social media (Facebook, Twitter) can also be a huge source of anxiety, particularly to those who are obsessed with it. Either you let it interrupt your time and distract you from what you’re really supposed to be working on or you ignore it and put off even looking at it.  Both ways produce anxiety. Research shows that the more one checks email, the more stress and anxiety one feels.

Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe, suggests we have clear goals so we’re “…not sucked into the black hole of busy work…” that the email habit can produce. By unsubscribing to email on all our devices for a period of time every day, we enable ourselves to actually work on accomplishing our goals rather than reacting to every person, request, opportunity that constantly enters our lives 24/7 via email. Glei also suggests a couple of strategies that will help alleviate the email anxiety we feel when not responding  to every person, request, etc. all the time.

  1.  Let the sender know that you received their email, that you read it, and that you’ll respond to their email when you’re able to do so. This is a courtesy to the sender and allows you to control your own schedule.  The result…less anxiety, more productivity.
  2. Take a “batch processing” approach to emails by setting aside a period of time, say 15 – 20 minutes at the very beginning of the day for emergency issues, and then schedule email time in batches every few hours to focus on reading, responding to and writing emails. The result…less anxiety, more productivity.