Turn Off the Email Dopamine Drip

Let’s face it — we’re all addicted to email.

If you want to get stuff done, turn off your email. Close your social media feeds and web browser too. You’ll be amazed at what you get done without the biochemical surge of ping, tweet, ping!

How many of you start your day lost in your email inbox, answering everybody else’s wants, needs, and requests?

Versus staying focused on the one thing that will grow or advance your business today?

“The inbox is nothing more than a convenient filing system for other people’s agendas.” – Brendan Bruchard

I know the feeling. I used to spend houuuuuurs on email everyday.

While it felt like drudgery, I was actually addicted to the dopamine drip response. You know, oooh, I wonder who just sent me a message? Does anyone love me?

That same addictive loop exists on social media too. Now I batch my email (i.e. small concentrated bursts). Rest of the time, email is turned off. Admittedly, it’s still a work in progress.

I try not to read email first thing in the morning, or right before going to bed. I’m taking control of my mental environment. And you can too.

Here’s a few ways to tame the email monster:

1. Stop using your inbox as a todo list – you often keep emails around cause you’re afraid you’re going to forget something (to follow-up with someone or to complete a task). Move tasks to your project management/todo system. We use the free tool Asana.com. Also install the Boomerang Plug-in. This allows you set a reminder on any email you send to circle back in your inbox after a certain period (1-day, 4-days, 1 week, etc…). A great tool for letting go.

2. Archive your emails – If you’ve got 12,432 emails in your inbox, it’s time to “let the bits go” as Mark Hurst teaches (Check out his great book Bit Literacy). In Gmail, there is a very prominent ARCHIVE button in your inbox dashboard. All archived emails are still searchable — without clogging up your inbox. This one act will lighten your psychic load considerably. My buddy Blake tells me this one shift totally rocked his world.

3. Unsubscribe from ALL newsletters – All non-business related communications should not hit your main email inbox. This creates anxiety, overwhelm and distraction. Either update your subscription settings so they go to a different email address (e.g. learning@mydomain.com), setup a filter to send all newsletters directly to a separate folder, or just go on a media diet (unsubscribe from ALL email lists that make you feel inadequate).

4. Use a social intelligence tool – Rapportive is a free plugin for Gmail and Google Apps that provides you with instant social links on every contact that hits your email inbox. Imagine to the right of your email from Bettie “Million Dollar Prospect” Beetlejuice  is a picture of Bettie, her job title, her LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, and Twitter feed — all with one click subscribe options. You’ll save yourself countless hours trying to sync up to make sure the contacts you care about most are in your social feeds. Plus a quick glance at a prospects social feed and you learn all sorts of things about them. More than once this had led to new opportunities for me.

5. Take an “Email Vacation” – All else fails, take a few days away from email. This recent research study by the University of California, Irvine, shows that people who do not look at e-mail on a regular basis at work are less stressed and more productive. You’ll just need a colleague to monitor your inbox for important emails.

While I’m still chasing the dragon trying to reach “inbox zero”, I’ve created a lot less stress by transforming my relationship to email.  For more strategies and tips, check out inboxzero.com.

What’s your Email Productivity Tip?

Add your suggestion in the comments below. We’d love to hear how you battle the monster of email mania.

15 thoughts on “Turn Off the Email Dopamine Drip”

  1. I love this post. And that is is killer headline.   Here’s my email tip– use the subject line. Often you can put your entire message in there.  “1pm meeting moved Jane’s office”  “You forgot the TPS report attachment”  and  I and end it EOM (end of message) so the recipient doesn’t have to open the email or reply.

    1. Susan, I LOVE people who communicate like that on email. They’re few around. But I LOVE it. So direct. That’s what email is for.

      In contrast, email is not a leadership tool, a place of extravagant nuance, or a forum to sort out complicated relationship matters. 

    Great post. For those using Outlook most if not all of what you covered is possible. I do love Outlook*. I created a video for Outlook 2010 which shows you how to get your Inbox to Zero. Even with this approach, with any approach, as you mention I too have to constantly work on my email discipline. It’s easy to fall off the wagon. But I tell ya, wow, having an empty inbox does feel good. And having some easy keystrokes to turn things into tasks for ‘next action’ or to archive those emails away for reference are tools that help me feel liberated.

    Here’s the video I created; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZl8Fqry3PU

    *I’m a Microsoft Employee.

    1. Rock on Matthew. Thanks for sharing this! Outlook or Entourage is a really great software. I’ve used them both for years. And know that many others do too.

      It unfortunately sucks when Microsoft .pst email inbox file invariably gets corrupted after a certain size and you loose ALL your archived data (years and years of emails, contacts, etc). So I prefer to have all my data up in the cloud (not that Google doesn’t have its drawbacks either). Just sayin’…

  3. THANK YOU!.. I’m making an appointment with myself to install Boomerang, Asana, and Rapportive.

    But the best line for me was “unsubscribe to all email lists that make you feel inadequate.”  Honey, if I did that… How would I know how to “Turn off the Email Dopamine Drip?”  Seriously, you complete me.

    1. Hey Annette! You complete me too. So glad you find the email tools useful. I knew it was a risk to add that line about unsubscribing, but here’s to hoping my emails make you feel expansive, inspired, and warm n fuzzy inside. Thanks for taking the time to add a comment.

  4. The best thing I’ve done to my email “problems”: adding more and more minutes before the next new mail check. At the moment I have 30 minutes between checkings and I’m planning to add more 😉

  5. Thanks for the tips, Michael. I find archiving emails definitely relieves the anxiety I get when I see a list of emails. I also create folders that I can organize emails and access them when Im directly working on that project. Something to work on that I took from your tips, get away from using email as a to-do list. Guess I start by checking out Boomerang.

    1. Rock on Sown Up! It’s a hard habit to break, but one that will make a huge difference in your work and productivity. Asana or some other task management tool is also key to shuffle stuff out of your inbox.

  6. Seriously LOVED this post and hoping to be following it too. Been trying heaps of stuff to keep me away from email checking non stop, but the drug attack keeps comings back. I really appreciate this post, thanks so much for it! God bless you.

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