Email… It’s like water. We need it to survive, but it can also kill us. It’s everywhere, and while some think it’s passé, it’s not going away anytime soon. It makes getting things done faster, more efficient. It also stimulates more basic parts of the brain that revert us to a more primitive state.

The Harvard Business Review Blog recently discussed a poll where one of the questions was about email:

Out of 1200 respondents, some 60 percent said they spend less than two waking hours a day completely disconnected from email. Twenty percent spend less than a half hour disconnected. Email has become our intravenous feeding tube.


It isn’t overload we’re battling anymore, it’s addiction — to action, and information, and connection, but above all to instant gratification.

This is not an easy problem to solve, but it’s a problem that must be addressed by anyone who relies on email and other electronic communication. In other words, most people these days.

In the last year, I’ve taken several steps to fight the tendency to check email all the time:

  • I’ve disabled audio alerts on every computer and phone I have. I don’t get a ding, boing, or piano note every time a message lands in my inbox.
  • On my phone, I don’t even let the light blink when there is a new message. If I want to see if I have mail, I have to go to the app. This is a small but significant step: it ensures that I’m checking the mail; it’s not checking me.
  • I follow a pretty disciplined GTD-like approach to handling email.
  • I try very hard not to check email after 9:00 pm. I find that I sleep much better at night the less I interact with a screen after 9:00 pm. If I’m looking at a screen late it night, it should be because I’m reading an e-book.

Feel free to pass along your tips, concerns, and other thoughts on battling the perils of email.