Why Email is Like Candy

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We’ve all heard the standard time management rules about how to deal with email:

Limit your email to only 3 times a day

Never check email in the morning (there’s even a book with this title)

Don’t multi-task by emailing while doing something else.
Seems sensible. But do we follow these rules? No.

What’s going on? We know that email can be like a black hole. That we spend too much time on email and that we have more important things to do. That email distracts from being present and from connecting with the people with us “in real life”.

Despite the fact that most email isn’t particularly important, interesting, or exciting, we can’t stay away and have to “just check it for a second”.

What makes email so irresistible?

Email is like candy. Even if we’ve had a big meal and are full, there’s always room for candy. If there’s an open bowl of M&Ms in front of you, you will dip into it. Even if you don’t like M&Ms all that much.

Turns out, email and candy both stimulate the brain’s feel-good energy-boosting chemical dopamine. They give you a little lift, a burst of joy.

Problem is, it can get addictive, particularly if you’re not engaging in other activities which naturally fuel the body’s dopamine production: eating healthy foods, exercising, sleeping well, avoiding stress. You know, all the things we should be doing instead of spending so much time on email.

Maybe that’s why the only time it was easy for me to stay away from email was while on vacation. It was tough at first as I experienced symptoms of withdrawal, but walks on the beach, hanging out with friends, and lots of fresh guacamole soon provided rewards much richer than the ping of an incoming message.

Here’s a 5-step process to manage email when you can’t jet off to Mexico:

1. Recognize that you’re not alone in being hooked on email. Blame your brain.

2. Set a low-bar goal to begin weaning yourself off your email addiction. Maybe 45 minutes without email to begin with. Or 15.

3. Give your brain a healthy dose of dopamine with a brisk walk, a good laugh, or a snack of lean protein.

4. Have a clear compelling goal that you want to accomplish in your email-free time.

5. Allow yourself a QUICK email hit if you feel you need it. Cold turkey may not be for you.

I’m happy to report that this post was brought to you with only one email interruption!

GO Try It!

Experiment with letting go of the junk food jolt of email. Notice how you regain your power to concentrate, focus and get things done.

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