Email addiction is taking a serious toll on both our personal lives and work productivity. Long gone are the days of handwritten letters, snail mail and faxes. Why use those outdated practices when you can simply type a message from anywhere and instantly send it to anyone in the world?
The problem starts when we abuse email and it begins to replace other, more personal forms of communication. A co-worker once said to me, “It's easy to be mean over email.” In order to be effective, email needs to be used correctly. Yes, it’s a phenomenal way to send a non-urgent message, a great use of recapping a meeting or telephone call, and possibly the best method for updating multiple people on a project. But it is very ineffective at conducting a discussion, carrying on a conversation, getting to know someone, or addressing a serious matter.
For many entrepreneurs, email has become a crutch. Below is a five-step program to kick the habit for good:
Say No to the ‘Push’
This is the first and most difficult step. The key here is to remove temptation: You can’t kick the email habit if your phone is constantly alerting you that a new email is waiting to be checked. Go into your settings, click on the ‘Fetch new data’ button, and turn off the push notification. Doing this will put you back in control and allow you to check emails when you want, not when the sender sends them. If you are feeling adventurous, take it one step further and set your fetch data to ‘manual.’ This simple change will give you your personal life back.
Disconnect From Your Inbox
Timothy Ferris of "The 4-Hour Work Week" recommends setting up an autoresponse to incoming emails that announces that you are only checking emails twice a day. I’ve tried this approach, but it only pissed off my colleagues.
Instead of announcing to the world when you will or won’t be checking emails, start more subtly. Just do it. Check and respond to your emails only three times a day. The first thing that I do when I get to my office is download my emails. That sounds like an email addict move, right? But as soon my emails are downloaded, I disconnect from the Internet. This allows me to read and respond to emails without getting an instant reply, which could start an unproductive email conversation. I can then review, reread, and edit emails before I go back online -- reducing redundant messages and more importantly, allowing me to delete heated messages that shouldn't be sent in the first place.
When you actually connect again, you can take 15 or 20 minutes to quickly reply to any time-sensitive emails you received.
Prioritize Urgent Matters
Efficiency experts in fields ranging from business to coaching agree that time blocking is a very productive habit. Finish one task before moving to another.
As I mentioned, when I get into the office, I immediately download my emails. I scan those emails for any urgent matters first. If there are urgent emails, I pick up the phone and address those issues immediately. Once that is out of the way, I start working on the day's top priorities.
By dealing with urgent issues in person or over the phone, you can keep the inefficient email conversations out of your day.
The key is to be consistent and train others to expect it. If you always address major matters in person or over the phone, people will begin to call you with anything urgent instead of using email. They will also start to think through what or when they email you, knowing that you will not respond immediately.
Bonus: You won't have to worry that you are missing something by not always being connected to the Internet.
Deal with Relapse
You will relapse. You will carry on an unproductive email conversation with someone and spend hours glued to your computer screen and email account, and you will become angry with yourself for doing it. This will happen. I guarantee it.
When you do, simply start over and get back into the groove of only connecting to emails three times a day, calling or meeting with people instead of emailing them, and blocking your time, including the time spent on emails.
Rinse and repeat until you get your life -- and your productivity -- back on track.
Chris Hunter is Co-Founder of Phusion Projects, LLC, a Chicago-based alcoholic beverage company that sells its products (including Four Loko, Island Squeeze and Moskato Life) nationwide. He's also a father, husband, traveler and triathlete.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.