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E-mail addiction, and 12-step program

The Chicago Tribune had an article on e-mail addiction by Alex L. Goldfayn, Admitting e-mail addiction often first step to recovery (registration wall) that focuses on the work of Marsha Egan, who has a 12-Step program for overcoming e-mail addiction.

The tone of the article was fairly light, with Goldfayn poking fun at the idea of e-mail addiction and at his own bad habits.  But the statistics and the solution sound familiar.  Over-reliance on e-mail saps energy and time.  The solution involves setting smart goals and using e-mail as one of your tools.  I see the steps (below) as an elaboration on the 4D's: do, delete, date-activate or delegate.

Interestingly, Michael Sampson has recently published the next article in his series of "unresolved issues with email."  This time he writes about It creates unnecessary communication.  Egan's suggested steps address some of the sociological aspects of the flood of email: be smarter about when to send email and use clear language in the subject and body of the message.  But Sampson wonders if the technology itself needs to change -- a longer term view to be sure. 

Here are Egan's steps as published in the Tribune article (without Goldfayn's comments):

  1. Admit that your e-mail is managing you; that you are "e-ddicted." Let go of your need to check your e-mail every 10 minutes, Egan said.
  2. Commit to keeping your in box empty.
  3. Create folders in your e-mail program to organize your messages.
  4. Use broad folder headings. For example, use a single "benefits" folder rather than separate ones for dental insurance, life insurance, etc.
  5. Adopt a two-minute rule: If it can be handled and deleted in less than two minutes, do it and delete the e-mail.
  6. Set a target date by which to completely empty your in box. Make it realistic and commit to it.
  7. Turn off automatic send/receive, thereby turning off interruptions.
  8. Establish regular times to review your e-mail.
  9. Involve others in conquering your addiction. "It's not a sign of weakness to do," Egan said. "It's a sign of strength."
  10. Reduce the amount of e-mail you receive. Get a junk filter. Unsubscribe from unnecessary lists.
  11. Keep to one subject per e-mail and use a detailed subject line in notes you send.
  12. Celebrate. You have made it through the 12-step process.

These aren't exactly parallel to substance abuse 12-step programs.  Egan offers several books or e-mail tip services related to her e-mail solutions.

Perusing Egan's website, I discovered this fun list:

And, just for fun... You know you're an E-Mail E-ddict when...?

  • You email yourself if you haven't received email for several minutes, just to make sure the email system hasn't gone down...
  • You look up EVERY time your computer "BRRRINGS" to announce an email...
  • You name your pets Mozilla, Firefox and Google
  • You get upset if you don't receive a response to your email message in an hour...
  • You refer to yourself as your email address when someone asks your name
  • You stop what you are doing to answer an "easy" email, even tho' it might not be the most important, JUST to knock it off the list...
  • You check your email the minute you get outa bed... even if it is the middle of the night
  • You ask new acquaintances for their email addresses, not their phone numbers...
  • You open your email first, before doing anything else...
  • You sleep with your Blackberry nestled under your arm
  • You keep more than 100 items in your inbox at all times...
  • You click "send/receive" just to make sure you haven't "missed" any email...
  • You check your spam filters hourly (or less) to make sure you're not missing anything...
  • You email the person sitting in the desk next to you, rather than turn around to ask the question...

Should it be ad-hoc or well-defined?

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