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How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done

By Jocelyn K. Glei
  • Read in 12 minutes
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei

Unsubscribe (2016) puts our unhealthy relationship with email under the magnifying glass. Our lives are busy enough as it is, so it’s high time to stop wasting precious hours catching up on emails and responding to unimportant messages. With the help of this practical guide, you can organize your inbox and your life.

Key idea 1 of 7

Addiction to email checking is keeping us from attending to what’s important in life.

How many times per day do you stop to check your email? Do you try to avoid it altogether or are you one of those people who hits refresh again and again, waiting for the next message?

Even if you know you’re a little obsessive, you may be more addicted than you think. Just consider this unsettling statistic: the average office worker checks their inbox 74 times a day.

This isn’t because people are given a ten-minute deadline to reply; it’s because the very act of checking email is addictive.

Perhaps you think that an inbox overflowing with unread emails is a daunting task waiting to be tackled. But that’s not exactly the case. Each of these unread messages holds out the promise of a pleasant surprise – of some interesting or fantastic news. So even if the thought of getting back on top of your post-weekend messages gives you the jim-jams, you’ll still be drawn to the task. We get addicted to the jolt of joy that some messages give us.

Our addiction comes from a primal impulse that seeks out positive rewards. It’s this impulse that drives us to check our inbox over and over, even though we’re unsure when the next reward will arrive. It keeps us sifting through the endless junk mail and boring work and family messages to find those rare gems that make us feel excited and alive – whether it’s an email from a long-lost lover or a near-forgotten friend.

However, email affects our psychology in more ways than one. It also provokes a progress paradox.

When we put off doing important tasks by opening each email message at the moment it arrives, we’re tricking our brain. On the one hand, we feel productive because we’re reducing the number messages in our inbox, but, on the other hand, we’re accomplishing next to nothing.

Nonetheless, getting that number of unread emails to zero is an almost irresistible reward since it triggers the same response we get from accomplishing an important task. But any email that can be swiftly discarded is generally insignificant and has no impact on our long-term goals.

So don’t let this feeling of false progress fool you. There are more important things you could be doing with your time.

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