A Five-Step Program To Kick Your Email Addiction

As published on Forbes.com 

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Hello. My name is Chris, and I’m an email addict.

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 Why use those outdated practices when you can simply type a message from anywhere and instantly send it to anyone in the world?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 an ass 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.

Set expectations 

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.

Put Me in Coach

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Since I was young, I’ve always known the value of having a mentor.  It makes perfect sense to have a person that can guide you through both business and personal situations.  I have also always believed in listening to the advice of those qualified to give it.  Why not learn from their mistakes and experiences?  However, for some reason, I was never able to grasp the idea of a business coach.  The thought of paying someone to help me make decisions just didn’t make sense to me.  I thought, “I’m a smart guy right?  Why would I have to pay someone to discuss topics and offer advice?”  I’m not a cheap person, so it was never about the money.  It was more about not seeing the value in it.

About two years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a respected person in my industry that I got along with well.  He was the President of a beverage company that has since been sold.  We have stayed in touch and I now consider him a friend.  In one of our conversations, he mentioned that the biggest reason that he was successful in his role was because of his “Success Coach”.  Needless to say, I was shocked by this statement.  It made me rethink my previous opinion on the subject.  He then referred me to his former coach and promised me that the coaching would change my life.  With a promise like that, from a guy like this, I had to check it out.

The first time I spoke with Robert Alderman, I knew that I wanted to work with him.  In a very even, non-boastful voice, he told me that he would only consider working with me because I was referred to him by Bill and that he was “too old and too rich to deal with any bullshit”.  I loved it and knew that this was the type of person that I needed to work with to really see some results.  He went on to explain that the first step in his coaching is to do an assessment to determine your behaviors, values, and emotional intelligence.  He encouraged me to go to his website and take the free mini-analysis first. I did and was amazed at the results.  After answering a few seemingly meaningless questions, this program generated a behavioral summary about me that was like reading an unedited autobiography.  It even included some of my unflattering behaviors.  However, when I was honest with myself, I knew they were true.  I was sold.

The coaching lessons, which at first consisted of debriefing me on all of the different reports, were like peeling of my own layers.  It allowed me to really get to understand who I really was and why I acted the way I did.  A great thing about Robert, at least for me, was that he was very blunt and didn’t pull punches, but in a nonaggressive or threatening way.  All of these revelations really helped me improve both my business and personal relationships.  As I later learned, the most common attribute of successful people is their ability to interact well with others.  Social interaction is the key.  Even more surprising was that fact that Emotional Intelligence, or your ability to recognize and control your emotions, is even more important than your Intelligence Quotient, or basically what you know.  The great news about Emotional Intelligence is that it can be changed and improved.  This was the focal point of my coaching.  The results were immediate and recognized by both my coworkers and friends.  As with any coaching, it takes practice.  I’m not perfect, but the most exciting thing to me is that I can see the changes in myself.  As my coaching continues to progress, we’ve discussed specific business topics.  Robert provides me with different perspectives to consider and offers alternative approaches.  Success Coaching is basically an interactive self help book.  Just like when I read those books, sometimes I’m reminded of things that I already know, often I learn something completely new, and occasionally my initial thoughts are just reconfirmed.  All of these are valuable.  However, with coaching I can go much deeper to discuss and work through more complex problems.  Even professional athletes need coaches to steer them in the right direction.  Why do we, as entrepreneurs, or just as people, think we can’t benefit from some guidance?  With that being said, I will give you the same advice that my friend Bill gave me.  Get a “Success Coach”, it will be the best thing that you’ve ever done for yourself and your business.