Hands on your heart, what was the last time when you found yourself checking your email?
According to Statista, 11% of people in the U.S. and Canada check their personal emails more than 15 times per day. Checking email is so deeply encoded in us that we don’t even recognize what we’re doing.
I have to admit that I’d check my personal email like an addict. Maybe it was my phone within my reach that served as a cue to check my inbox. It’s not the time I’d spend on checking email but the compulsive behavior itself that imposed a major weight on me.
In this post, I try to break the conventional wisdom and share with you, in retrospect, how I controlled my compulsive email checking behavior. It’s so good to rediscover how life feels when you’re no more the slave to your phone and inbox!
Before we dive into my case study, let’s see some life hacks that might help you to stop checking your email so frequently.
Life hacks to fight to check your email constantly
The average smartphone user, according to a BankMyCell report, checks their phones 63 times a day. With the convenience of smartphones, we’re only one click away from seeing what’s new in our inbox. Or worse, we have multiple inboxes, which means multiple cookie jars. Tell me about somebody who doesn’t like cookies …
So, the question is, what you can do to avoid cookies altogether.
Below, I listed some hacks to kick the habit:
- Delete all email apps from your phone: The most obvious method to fight this compulsion is simply removing your email apps from your phone and iPad.
- Download an app blocker: App blockers are what the name suggests—they just block certain apps for a predefined period. If you want to consider this option, the Freedom app is a good choice to start with.
- Use a time tracking tool to measure your time spent on email: There’s a handful of time tracking tools that help you understand where your time goes and how much time you spend on different websites and apps. I have some experience with RescueTime, which I highly recommend.
- Shut down WiFi (and restrict access to cellular network): It might seem a drastic measurement at first, but this is what some smart people do to avoid distractions in the evening. The implications go far beyond email consumption: it’s time to surround yourself with your family, have a discussion, play with the kids, plan out the next day, journal, or read a book.
- Keep your phone in a place that isn’t easily accessible: This is another physical barrier that might prevent you from checking your email—and checking your phone constantly, by the way.
- Put a statement into your affirmations: Affirmations can work like magic as well. You might keep a single statement in your journal to remind yourself of the new commitment.
The above life hacks provided evidence for various physical and mental barriers to prevent the unwanted habit from working. Deciphering the habit itself, however, might be a smarter decision.
Try to figure out what cues are associated with your email checking habit. Maybe, there’re certain times of the day when you’re more inclined to check your inbox. Maybe hitting your desk after a while or switching tasks serves as a cue that initiates the habit. It’s worth experimenting a little bit to find out the driving force behind your habit and, then, build in new activities replacing the old one.
You might already know that my case study has nothing to do with the life hacks discussed.
The answer is far more simplistic than you might think. Read on to find out why …
How I got rid of my compulsive email checking behavior
None of the above methods worked for me, because I’m lazy and skeptic.
What I did, however, was not even a life hack. At least I wouldn’t phrase it that way.
It was a conscious decision.
I decided that I want to get rid of my compulsive behavior once and for all.
- I didn’t write it down into my journal.
- I didn’t put it into my affirmations.
- I didn’t delete a single app from my phone.
- I didn’t do anything about that.
All I did was committing.
No matter what, I’ll check email only twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. Or better yet, just once in the evening.
I ended up checking my email twice a day. What made me extremely excited, however, was that it all happened within three (!) days. (At the same time, I decreased my Facebook consumption to 2-3 times a week.)
Over the first day, I struggled with my compulsions but finally managed to keep things under control. The second day was easier, and on my third day, I didn’t even recognize my temptations.
Weeks went by since my initial success and I can say I’m still on track, more or less. (Definitely, business emails don’t fall under this category. More on that later.)
Of course, there’re times when I’m more wired toward checking email. And sometimes I fail to resist the temptation. But there’s nothing wrong with that—I’m human, after all.
An update: I just finished reading Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood. As I found myself falling prey to my phone recently, I followed the author’s advice to move my gadget to my backpack and keep there all day long. (Well, I keep it there from 9-5 at the very least.) I still remember the dawn of the iPhone era, when I used to keep my phone in my backpack. If somebody would contact me with an urgent issue, I could hear my phone ringing. Nothing important missed.
A word about business email
If you’re lucky enough, you have only a single inbox. If you’re an employee, however, you have a minimum of one more email address associated with your employer.
It’s far beyond the scope of this post to discuss how you can manage email. If you’re interested, you might find this post helpful.
My method might not work in the office, but the main reasoning is the same. It’s far easier to stop checking your email constantly than you think. You make a decision. That’s it.
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