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I’m Addicted to EMAIL??? REALLY?!

Coping with the shame of having a completely un-sexy addiction

NOTE: I drafted this post in early March, just before call-things-corona hit Canada. Therefore there is no reference to everything that’s happening right now. I hope that’s ok with you, readers. I felt like I could use a break from that topic. Enjoy.

Big moment this week. I discovered somewhat by accident that I have a serious addiction. I’m an email addict. I think it’s important to term it that way to admit to myself how serious it is. And I think what’s most intriguing about this discovery is, like other times I’ve made similar realizations of this magnitude, is that I felt tremendous relief as soon as it was made clear to me. And that is a positive sign. Right?

I mean, it’s only the early stages of my self-guided treatment, so like any addict the likelihood of my recovery is not exactly high.


Upon my discovery of this self-diagnosed affliction my first question was, “how long has this been a problem?” The answer being: Far longer than I think I’m willing to admit.

Next question, “How bad is it?” Well from what I’ve read (Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei on Blinkist, and my own research of email anxiety on Google) it’s bad enough that I had NO idea this was a behaviour that was eating away at my soul, on a day basis, for as long as I can remember – definitely well over a decade.

“Email is killing our productivity… The average person checks their email 11 times an hour… and spends 28% of their total workweek on email.” 

Jocelyn K. Glei, Author, Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real.

And it gets personal:

“When you expect someone to reply to your email immediately and they don’t, it’s difficult to know the reason why… We tend to infer social rejection.”

Psychology Today

Typical of addictive behaviours, it looks like I’ve been in denial. To the point of voicing my frustration ad nauseam about how ‘everybody’ around me is always so distracted by technology. Social media, mobile phones, YouTube, texts… you name it, it was the cause, and I couldn’t believe ‘these people’ were all so oblivious to it. God! Why can’t people see what they’re doing wrong? Why can’t they be more enlightened like this wiseguy? I’m so focused and present most times, I must be the only one who sees it. Will this ever change? What can I do to make even the smallest dent in this ‘Digital age’ we live in.

I think this is called righteous indignation… typically an indication of a lack of compassion, and more importantly, self-awareness. Shit.

In my attempt to dig deeper on how I could save the world from ruin, I started doing some research for a topic I wanted to discuss on my next Podcast (coming soon, well, not THAT soon). I was finding a LOT of validating data to indicate our collective impending demise as a society. Yup, all legit self-righteousness. Key finding being a somewhat obscure term coined by tech writer Linda Stone back in 1998 – Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). It was the nugget I needed. I liked it, and it stuck.

In a nutshell, what CPA refers to is “a modern adaptive behavior of continuously dividing one’s attention.” Brought on by the advent of digital (technology) and our newly uber-connected culture, we humans have adapted to an automatic state of ‘constant connectedness’. Bamm! There it is. I could immediately relate to this phenom, recognizing it as being something I experienced. But, not nearly to the level of all those other ‘people’ around me – my kids notwithstanding. (note my complete lack of self-awareness here)

I did collect other relevant research data along the way, and pinned it, bookmarked it, or parked it in my brain for when it could better support my claim of everyone else having a problem.

We recorded the podcast, and a great discussion was had with my podcast partner Lindsay. We agreed it was not necessarily good or bad, it had its benefits for sure, especially considering we are both disciples of Digital Marketing and Communications strategy (nerds unite!) My point however, was that it was something to be aware and cautious of. You know, the everything-in-moderation school of thought.

We concluded the discussion agreeing that, being newly aware of CPA, we now need to make a conscious effort to reduce our attention depletion, and make time for focus through undivided attention. As with other good habits, we try to make time for in our day-to-day lives like reading, fitness, and eating healthy; focus was going to be one of mine. So I committed to booking two two-hour slots this week to shut down all communications and distractions, and just focus on something I was doing for me. The first of which is happening right now as I write this article. Yay me!

Look at me go! I’m so awesome…

I’m not going to lie – as a (struggling) recovering workaholic over the past five years, I’ve pretty much mastered ‘me’ time, as it was the first hurdle I needed to tackle in order to begin my rehabilitation.

I was looking forward to it. Two hours for me to tackle my personal passion project (you’re looking at it) with zero distractions. I was so excited, in fact, that I started feeling that tension I feel when I look forward to any event, and feel the needed to prepare…

My weekend mornings tend to involve me taking some time to catch up on ‘professional’ reading from my preferred sources, Medium, Blinkist, and the plethora of professional sources and self-help books I seem to accumulate (yes, another habit we can cover at another time). This past Sunday, based on my recent search patterns about CPA, I was led to some interesting content about what is generally referred to as ‘email addiction’.

“the ramifications of it are more than just bursts of anxiety – it affects our work, our creativity, and our well-being.”

The Muse

As I read more about it, I felt like all of these articles were describing me.

Sadly, and most unsettling to me, what troubles me most about this self-discovery is how unsexy being obsessed with something like email truly is. Really? With all the ‘cool’ Rockstar things to be addicted to, I get email? Ugh. That said, the uncoolness of it jives with my typical pattern – my children can and will affirm – of uninteresting struggles. But hey, I look at it in this positive light: It’s the devil you know.

Joking aside, I do believe this is a problem, and my first step is to recognize it as such. Good news, it’s not something I’m actually ashamed of. Actually, that may even be another problem: There is no shame to overcome here. It originated form a place of personal pride. Checking my email often means I’m busy, busy means I’m important, and important means I’m successful. Right? Nope.

Like many bad behaviours I adopt, I know that my first steps in ensuring my success in making change happen is:

  1. Reminding myself that nothing good can or will come from it – it’s an ugly trait.
  2. Knowing it’s not the ‘thing’ that causes the behaviour (in this, case email) but the behaviour itself (my over-dependence).
  3. Knowing that changing or replacing this negative behaviour to a positive one will be bliss.
  4. Committing to the first tangible and measurable action that I can reasonably take.

My first action: Blocking two two-hour slots each week for the next four weeks, where email, texts, everything is un accessible. Hey, baby steps.

So here I go, taking my first steps on the journey toward email happiness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got email to check…

Got some email issues to unload?

I’d love to hear them! I welcome your comments.

SP Wiseguy

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