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Calling All Email Addicts: A New Year's Resolution of a Healthier Email Diet

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If you are like me, your work, social life, stress meter, and to-do list are all linked to your email. For many of us, it's the first thing we check in the morning, last thing we do at night, and the gong of our constant alarm bell throughout the rest of the day.

But it doesn't have to be that way, or so I am starting to realize. I've decided that 2014 is the year I put myself in the driver's seat and take the keys to the ignition back from my inbox.

Why am I doing this?

I remember the day my phone went silent.

I was working in an office where we didn't use landlines. As the chief connector on the team, my phone was the one that rang the most often. It had that standard old Samsung ring that I could sing to you, but it's hard to describe in a writing. Let's just say it was catchy, high-pitched, and it ended in this crescendo of energy that no one could ignore, sparking our team to create a little fist-in-the-air dance routine that everyone in the office would do whenever my phone rang all day, every day.

My phone would interrupt me and others, and even if I ignored the call, I'd still be distracted, wondering who it might have been. Then one day, probably around 2009, someone said to me, "You know, you could just turn it on silent and only check it when you actually have time to connect with people."

So I turned my phone to silent, and have never turned it back. My life was calmer, I had less disruptions and distractions in my day, and though I missed the little Samsung ring dance, my happiness index certainly increased. Sure, every now and then there really was an urgent or important call that I would miss, but if the caller really needed me, they would find me: on email, by calling someone else who was with me, or just knocking on my door. To be honest though, as much as I'd like to think I was "needed", very urgent phone calls have been rare, and keeping my phone on silent is certainly the way I plan to continue.

I stopped being a slave to my phone, but another form of communication slavery replaced it: the constant email catch-up game. The race to clear my inbox, like a goalie focused only on keeping things out, meant other more important things have been overlooked. The stress of having something incomplete and hanging over my head has been constant: my inbox is never clear, and my work never seems done.

How am I doing this?

As my 2014 New Year's resolution, I have committed to a healthier email diet. Here are the actions I've taking so far (and I welcome other tips and advice in the comments section):

24-hour e-fasts
I am committed to doing a minimum of a 24 hour E-fast each week for the year: 24 hours completely off of email to clear my mind, stop the alarm bells, and get other priorities done. I found others who were looking to do a weekly digital detox, and to hold ourselves to our commitments, and get others to join in, my friend Ben Keene and I just launched a page called Hibernate, inviting others to take the e-fast pledge as well.

I've often found that publicly committing to something is one of the best ways to get yourself to do it. The problem was that when I started this last week, my phone was right there, and by instinct, I'd reach out to click on the "mail" button to check in on my growing to-do list, and I'd have to quickly turn it off. Having mail on my phone was too much of a distraction, so I decided to take another, more drastic step.

Removed email from my phone
I went into my phone settings and deleted my email accounts from my phone. Now when I click on the "mail" button, nothing happens. There is no phone vibration and no flood of a full inbox.

It used to be that any time I had a free moment, like the 10-minute walk between my house and the train, I would check my email as it would seem "efficient" to try to clear out more of the to-do list in that time. This illusion of efficiency led me to use the "space between things" to check my email: on the train, from my bed before falling asleep or just when waking up, at dinner when the conversation got dull, or perhaps sneaking off to the bathroom to check an email because I'd seen it just before I walked in and I felt I needed to clear it out right now. A slave to the inbox on my phone.

This week, on the walk between the train and a restaurant to meet my friends, instead of checking my email, I people watched, I thought about my to-do list in my head (not my email list, as it turns out those are not always the same thing!), and I arrived at dinner smiling, more present, and probably a nicer person.

I realized that the myth of efficiency was similar to my prior belief that I needed to answer my phone when it rang: it's actually not efficient to do something "right then and there" all the time. I type exponentially faster on my computer than on my phone, so I can more quickly get through emails in one chunk, plus I am less distracted from other things when I'm not checking my email all the time, so I become more effective in the rest of my life... and it is indeed good to remember there is life outside of email.

So, while I intended to turn email off my phone only once a week, I have yet to turn it back on. And I don't plan to any time soon.

Try it. If you feel you could deal with an email detox, take these steps:

-- Commit to trying at least one 24 hour e-fast
-- Disconnect your phone's Mail button from your email

Maybe you'll enjoy the silence, too!

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