Finding a Cure for Email Addiction

The response to my column last week on email addiction was immediate and overwhelming. Dozens of readers from all over the world responded to tell me that they, too, are addicted.

Readers in Australia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. — from brand-name e-marketing companies to solo practitioners — seemed relieved to say, “Yes, I’m addicted to email!”

The comments were honest, heartfelt, and, for a fellow addict such as me, reassuring. Some wrote just a few words; others poured out paragraphs. Only a couple of readers, however, offered remedies for email addiction. I will share some of the stories with you here and pass on some tips.

And yes, I do digress a bit from the topic of email marketing. But as I noted last week, online behavior is what is driving the rapid growth of B2B email marketing.

Whether it means obsessively checking for new messages or purposefully reviewing your inbox several times a day, sending and receiving email is an integral part of doing business in the 21st century. Call email the linchpin, if you will. Without it, most of us in the online business feel we are unconnected and out of the loop and can’t work.

The Email Addict’s Lament

Whether you can control your relationship with your inbox is another matter. Here are the laments of the email addicted around the world.

From Australia: “If you learn of a cure, please pass it on. I am a journalist, and I now find I am not able to complete more than two or three paragraphs of a story without swapping from Word to Outlook Express to check for messages… Thanks for the chance to get that off my chest.”

From Malaysia: “I’m an email addict. I check the first thing b4 brushing my teeth, because I work from my bedroom.”

From the U.K.: “I spend way too much time on it. I check first thing; then I check all the way through the day. [It’s] crazy, not good for productivity. Also I hardly ever use the post anymore.”

From the U.S.: “Don’t use my name, but I know exactly how you feel! Sometimes I have to turn off my Outlook just to get things done without interruption.”


“I’m finally ready to admit I have a problem. At a trade show recently, I awoke in the middle of the night, unable to get my laptop ‘dial-up’ connected to the hotel [phone system]. I found myself in a 24-hour hotel business center looking for a ‘fix.'”

“I have been strung out on checking my email every minute for 7 years. The issue for me comes in when I get home and have to check personal email. YICK! Then I feel that my life is fading away.”

Emailaholics Anonymous

Also from Australia: “Hi, my name is John… and I’m addicted to email. When you’re expecting an important message from a client, the little envelope pops up, and you rush to see what it is. More often than not, it is a JPEG of a giant cat that a friend has sent you… It’s an exciting time to be on this earth. I love it!”

From the Netherlands: “Since I work for an Internet company, I believe speed is a major factor. I always like people to respond fast. It’s a sign of using mail the right way. That is why I try to respond as fast as I can, and, therefore, I have become an addict.”

From the U.S.: “I used to be addicted to email. Now I IM [instant message]. Some would call it transference of attention/obsession, but I do check email less often!”

“You’re not alone. I’ve actually been thinking about starting EA [emailaholics anonymous], complete with a 12-step program to curb this digital addiction — but I’ve just been too darn busy reading all my emails!” This reader goes on to say that she checks seven different email addresses throughout the day: one each for Excite, iWon, EarthLink, and Hotmail and three for Yahoo. Each has a purpose (work, e-newsletters, friends and family, etc.).

Is There a Cure?

Surprisingly, I found few online resources specifically aimed at email addiction. One is’s email addiction page. Two others are the Center for On-Line Addiction and an addiction resource site. I also found an online therapy site at which you can get help for Internet addiction through email consultation. (That’s supposed to be a joke.)

Several readers offered practical tips for setting up folders in Outlook to solve this problem. But the latest software features cannot cure email addiction.

As one reader put it: “As for controlling the addiction, the first step, and the one that I fail, is wanting to. After that it is easy. Just set up your software to only check email every 15 minutes or half hour. Mine is set on every minute.”

Jared Spool, Web usability expert and principal of User Interface Engineering, offers a useful perspective: “Email addiction is an old problem,” he said. “People crave social interaction. It’s like standing around the water cooler all day… Unfortunately, with email it looks like you’re sitting at your computer working.”

But, he added, “there are tricks… to this. If you feel you are losing productivity, you have to, in essence, close your office door. Only check email at certain times of the day. Turn off the ping.”

How many times have I looked out my office window to notice blue sky and afternoon light — and then looked up again “moments” later to discover that hours have passed, it’s dark, and I missed the chance to get outside for a break?

So, here are my tips (which I have a hard time following):

  • Pull back from the computer.
  • Stand up, and take some deep breaths.
  • Look outside.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Pick up the phone.
  • Scratch a thank-you note on a piece of stationery and snail mail it to a colleague.

That last one was a great suggestion from a reader, who noted that his recipient replied by email.

Last week I wrote my column in record time. I didn’t allow myself to check email until the afternoon. I had a whole morning of uninterrupted work at the keyboard, and it felt wonderful. I was calm and in control, even with a writing assignment due that day.

This week was a different story. As I was writing, I checked my inbox frequently (ahem) to reread all your responses and (of course) to check for new mail. It took much longer, and by the time I finished, I was pretty frazzled.

So keep those confessions coming. Saying it out loud is a great first step.

My name is Debbie, and I am addicted to email.

But enough mind-and-body tips. I’ll be back to (business-to-) business next week with an update on tackling the problem of out-of-date email addresses with several new email national change of address (e-NCOA) technologies.

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