Email Addiction

by Staff Writer

Everyone has known a workaholic or at least seen one portrayed on television. Such individuals spend countless hours on the job, and they usually have time-consuming projects to work on at home. They constantly think about working. Most people are aware that this sort of lifestyle causes harm to physical and mental health. New evidence suggests that certain behaviors prove particularly harmful, such as trying to keep up with a constant barrage of email messages. This can lead to email addiction, a widespread phenomenon that causes stress and reduces productivity.

Email has dramatically changed the way we communicate. ABC News reported that computer users sent 90 trillion email messages in 2009. Over two billion people use email. Mail only arrives once daily; new email can appear at any time. This prompts people to expect faster replies. If a response doesn't come within hours, they start to worry. Many office employees check for new messages at every chance. Others can be interrupted at any time by new email alerts.

This has a number of negative effects on the body and mind. Researchers have found that telephone and email distractions can reduce a person's IQ by 10 points, according to the BBC. They can also create stress and shorten the attention span. Stress is a more serious problem than many people realize; it may combine with other factors to produce long-term medical problems. The National Library of Medicine warns that stress promotes heart disease and high blood pressure. These ailments can lead to stroke and heart failure.

Some people refer to the overuse of electronic mail as "email addiction." In many ways, it bears a strong resemblance to food and drug addictions. Psychology Today reports that computer users experience a rush of dopamine when email arrives. Some also exhibit withdrawal symptoms when they can't check it for a long period of time. As with gambling, it is a process addiction; there is no addictive substance involved. Many people start the day by reading the latest messages. If they go a couple of days without checking for new email, the stack of unread messages will become all the more burdensome.

What makes this such a popular addiction? In the home, users can deceive themselves that it isn't really work; email is easy to use and doesn't require much physical effort. Business-related email provides a good excuse to check for messages in the workplace, so people needn't miss work to satisfy their "cravings." The financial and mental costs of email addiction usually remain hidden; it doesn't look or feel like an addiction. Supervisors often condone it, unaware of how little work their email-addicted employees are accomplishing.

Email addiction has a major impact on work productivity. Entrepreneur.com reports that the average corporation wastes up to $1 billion per year on productivity lost to "email overload." The typical office worker checks for new email every 10 minutes and loses over two hours of productivity to distractions created by email and instant messaging. A survey of 1,100 people found that 21 percent were willing to interrupt meetings to answer email, according to the BBC. Electronic mail distracts workers from their goals and creates unwanted obligations. At home, it reduces the time that people spend with their friends and families.

If you have an email addiction or simply want to spend less time reading email, take steps to reduce the number of messages you receive. Attempt to consolidate your email accounts, so you won't have to spend time checking multiple "mailboxes." Try to decrease the number of times you check for new email, both manually and automatically. This will help you concentrate on your work and prevent others from hijacking your attention for their own benefit. These tips can help you curb an email addiction:

  1. To avoid giving companies your email address, use cash or checks to make purchases and donations.
  2. Disconnect your computer from the Internet while you perform offline tasks, such as word processing, scanning and programming.
  3. Turn off instant email notifications. Alternately, set your computer's email software to check for new messages every hour.
  4. Avoid using a smartphone. People who buy smartphones become 25 percent more likely to suffer from email overload, according to ABC News.
  5. Make an effort to cancel your subscriptions to electronic newsletters that you don't have the time to read.
  6. As Washington Post writer Chris Anderson suggests, send fewer messages and avoid open-ended questions.
  7. Don't waste your morning energy; work on demanding tasks in the morning and save your email for the late afternoon.
  8. When possible, turn off email updates from social networks and other websites that you use.
  9. If a newspaper, magazine or website wants to publish your email address, create a separate account for this purpose.
  10. Never respond to business-related email messages on Sundays, holidays or vacations.

It is also helpful to take a break from the constant connectivity of computers, cellphones and PDAs. People lived without these gadgets for thousands of years; we can certainly go a few days without them. Take a walk and leave your electronic devices at home. If you don't already do so, turn off your personal computer at night. Spend at least one day of the week away from email and text messaging. Regardless of how your employer, customers, co-workers or friends may feel, you deserve to have some time to yourself.

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