Your inbox may be harming your productivity and zapping your brain. But there IS hope.

Obsessive-Compulsive Email Checking Disorder (OCECD) — A psychiatric disorder characterized by a subject’s obsessive thoughts and subsequent compulsions to check his/her email.

It’s 1871 and postcards are the latest novel thang. So much so that The New York Times issues a story, stating the country is undergoing a “postcard-sending epidemic,” according to a book titled The Tyranny Of Email. Today, receiving a postcard means you have an eccentric Uncle Bob that really likes you or you live under a rock. Emails have certainly changed the face of communication, but at what cost? In 2015, the number of emails sent and received per day totaled over 205 billion. Gazooks!

“The first email was sent less than forty years ago; by 2011, there will be 3.2 billion email users. The average corporate worker now receives upwards of two hundred emails per day. The flood of messages is ceaseless and follows us everywhere.”

The Tyranny Of Email

Can I get a what, what? That scenario describes me. As the CEO of an online health startup, I am flooded with emails and find myself checking them too many times a day. Hell, my mouse is perpetually scurrying into my inbox even with tools such as Asana and Slack to keep the volume down.

This is particularly perplexing because on one hand I am acting as the CEO of HoneyColony but on the other hand I am responsible for creating quality content as editor-in-chief. That means I need (and want) to write, which means I need to get into an uninterrupted flow.

“If the only point to writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along,” writes Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in his book In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Maybe you’re not a writer but find that emails are distracting you from your main focus. Turns out excessive email checking not only hampers creativity but health too. Here are five ways how.

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1. Dopamine Downer

Email may be a digital form of communication in cyberspace but it causes actual issues on the physical plane. Emails are highly addictive. The way researchers describe it, you may as well be playing slots in Vegas.

A positive email releases dopamine, the brain chemical that controls your mood, motivation, and sense of reward. So the chance of getting that email inviting you to an exclusive event off the coast of Miami or a message that compliments your marvelous writing chops beckons you to want more of that inbox. You go back again and again even though — and maybe especially when — you are in the middle of another task. Your dopamine spikes when you open an email so you keep going back for a hit.

“The anticipation is greater than the reward: the urge to check that email is greater than the satisfaction we feel once we’ve read it,” reads an article titled The Science Behind Your Email Addiction. Yes, You!

Meanwhile, we actually experience withdrawal and anxiety if, let’s say, we’re (god forbid) on a plane with no Wi-Fi or on a supposed technology-free vacation.

So you’re an addict. But guess what?  You’re also imbalanced. Repetitive gestures like email checking cause dopamine disharmony. Nice! And if you keep leaving the very thing you should be focusing on, you actually reward the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.

2. What Was That Again?

Compulsive email checking negatively impacts your memory and attention span. When you are multitasking, your attention moves away from the hippocampus, which is responsible for storing information, argues John Freeman in The Tyranny of Email. Rather, the attention goes to your striatum, which deals with repetitive rote tasks. That’s why it’s harder to remember what you were doing when multitasking. Overall, emails do not send intel to the pre-fontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps you empathize with others and address them in a decent manner. No surprise that misunderstandings and blunders are abound. 🙂 lol.

“We become task-oriented, tetchy, [and] terrible at listening as we try to keep up with the computer. The email inbox turns our mental to-do list into a palimpsest — there’s always something new and even more urgent erasing what we originally thought was the day’s priority.”

The Tyranny Of Email

Walter Kirn wrote in an essay called The Autumn of the Multitaskers that email messes with the brain in several ways:

“At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires — the constant switching and pivoting — energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.”

3. Myopic Eye Movements

According to The Tyranny Of Email, emails (and definitely reading online on a screen) has had an effect on the way we move our eyeballs and the way we take in information. In this digital age, we are now prone to skimming instead of reading. Do you know someone who brags about power-browsing?

And interestingly, the percentage of adults scoring proficient when reading prose dropped considerably between 1992 and 2003. But wait, that can also be because of other factors that make us stupid like sugar and TV.

4. Subject: Stress

Juggling many moving parts has become the new normal. Doing emails with a myriad other things means you are multitasking. Certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. “In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy,” as found in The Autumn of the Multitaskers.

5. From E- To Lack of Z

The compulsion to stay connected has repercussions on our sleep patterns. We’re sleeping less than ever before.  Of course EMF’s and toxic beds do not help.

According to a pilot study, more than half of children and teenagers who text or surf the internet at bedtime are likely, not only to have problems falling asleep, but experience mood, behavior, and cognitive problems during the day. Is it the new normal to sleep with your smartphone by your pillow?

Solutions For A Better Brain

  1. Admit. Awareness is the first step. You got to admit you have a problem.
  2. Control. Can you identify your triggers? Can you catch yourself before you follow through on the urge? If possible, allot specific times to address emails. Freeman suggests that you don’t start or end your day with emails. Do not let messages dictate your mood.
  3. Try reducing email volume and organizing your inbox. Look into organizational tools like Unroll.me and SaneBox. These will help you unsubscribe and remove clutter. Determine a healthy amount of emails to answer in a day. Do not be a slave to your inbox.

As Freeman suggests, “The most important thing you can do to improve the state of your inbox, free up your attention span, and break free of the tyranny of email is not to send an email. As most people now know, email only creates more email, so by stepping away from the messaging treadmill, even if for a moment every day, you instantly dial down the speed of the email messagopolis.”

Stay healthy and keep pen and paper in your life.

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