How I broke my email addiction

Self-described "email addict" David Smith, an assistant professor in the biology department at Western University, explains how he overcame his obsession in a recent article for University Affairs.  

"Email is certainly impeding on my ability to live prosperously and productively," Smith quips. He identifies a number of ways email threatens a happy life: compulsively checking for new messages, fretting over the best way to sign off, regretting an embarrassing typo.

And that's just one of the myriad digital distractions waiting within arms' reach. "I feel like I'm in an online arms race for control of my concentration," Smith writes.

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Email can be a destructive force. In his own experience, Smith shares, email saps his creativity and offers a tempting procrastination tool. Research has found that email takes up nearly a quarter of the average person's workday.

Smith shares several tips he's used to overcome his email challenges. He recruits a family member to help him proofread important messages for typos. He turns of his Wi-Fi while writing email responses, which sends his drafts to his email client's outbox. Once he's finished a batch of responses, he takes a second look at the messages in his outbox, cleaning up a few typos or less-than-diplomatic phrases, before turning his Wi-Fi back on and sending them.

But, Smith adds, his new "email diet" has proven to be the most effective of all. First, he deleted all email apps from his digital devices. Then, he found 10 quarters. For each quarter, Smith allows himself to check his email for 25 minutes. He permits himself no more than two quarters per day and no more than 10 quarters per week. He moves the quarters from one pile to another to keep track.

Using this method, Smith shares that he's reclaimed his time and finished a manuscript. He recommends the quarter method (or a variation of it) to fellow email addicts, urging you not to "let the chime of an incoming message take over your life" (Smith, University Affairs, 11/3).

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