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Christine Carter - 5 Steps to End Your Email Addiction

5 Ways to Tame Compulsive Checking

Next Week, April 30-May 6, is Screen-Free Week!

Before you think, “I can’t be screen free a whole week,” bear with me. It is SUPER worth-while to consider doing a digital detox every once in a while. Why?

Research suggests that screen time (especially social media usage) leads to unhappiness. Three recent studies all found basically the same thing: The more people used Facebook, the lower their happiness (or the higher their loneliness and depression) was when researchers assessed them again. It’s important to note that it’s not that people who were feeling unhappy used social media more; it’s that Facebook caused their unhappiness.

The more people used Facebook, the lower their happiness (or the higher their loneliness and depression) #screenfreeweek Click To Tweet

Most of us can’t give up screens at work, or if we are in school, but we can give up digital entertainment and social media for a week. This will free up tons of time (and don’t we all want more time?). Let’s read! And stare into space! And most importantly: Connect with family and friends!

Even if we can’t go completely screen free, we can reduce our exposure. It’s easy to spend most of our entire waking existence monitoring our email and social media feeds. We can begin the day by turning off the alarm on our phone . . . and then checking our messages. Before we are out of bed. And then we can bring our phones–and our feeds–with us to the bathroom. And we check again at breakfast. Once at work, the emailing continues–before, during, and after meetings. Lunch? We “catch up” on email or Facebook. For most people, the checking continues long into the evening, well after we’ve left the office.

Does this sound familiar? If so, here are five steps that will help you check less, but work — and play — more.

Step 1: Decide what to do instead of checking constantly. If you are going to spend less time monitoring your email (and social media feeds, and anything else that is constantly nagging you for attention), what would be more productive or joyful for you? My clients often want to spend more time doing focused, intelligent, creative work during the day, and more time relaxing, exercising, and hanging out with their families before and after work. Actually block off time on your calendar for stuff like “Read with hubby” or “Do focused writing/thinking.”

Step 2: Schedule two or three specific times to check your email and messages during the day. I check my email first thing in the morning, and again in the late afternoon. Here is the key: Block off enough time to get all the way to the bottom of your inbox in one way or another. If a particular email is going to take more than 5 minutes to read and respond to, I put it in a folder (“to do this week”) and add whatever it entails to my task list. If you need X hours a day to deal with your email, make sure you’ve scheduled X hours daily.

Step 3: Turn off all your alerts. Unless you are actively checking your email and messages, you don’t need to know what communication is coming in because you’ll be devoting your full attention to something else. So turn off all notifications on your desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Vibrate counts; turn it off. Now do this for your text messages and all of your social media feeds. Breathe. (Note: Even if, through the strength of your ironclad will, you are able to resist reading a message that comes in, if you see or hear or feel a message notification, your brain has still been interrupted by that alert. Even a millisecond attention hijack like this will make you less focused, less able to resist other temptations, and more irritable.)

Step 4: Hide the bowl of candy. If you were trying to eat less candy, would you carry a bowl of it around with you? Would you put it on your nightstand and reach into it first thing in the morning? And then carry it with you to the bathroom? And then set it next to you while you try to eat a healthy breakfast? And then put it on your dashboard? I didn’t think so. So keep that smartphone tucked away until you actually need it. (Maybe make sure your water bottle isn’t leaking before you keep it stashed in your bag, though.) Think of it as a tool, like a hammer, that you don’t need to pull out until one of your strategically designated times. Make adjustments: Dig up your old-fashioned alarm clock, update your car’s navigation system, and put that digital camera back in your bag for the times when getting a call or text will tempt you if you are using a camera.

Step 5: Notice what happens. Notice the difficult bits with curiosity (and maybe humor). How do you feel as you detox from constant checking? How are people reacting now that you don’t respond to everything instantly? Notice also the moments of ease and focus. Your tension levels will likely drop, and you’ll probably be less stressed. How does this feel in your body? Really see the people around you, now that you are looking up from your phone. Smile.

Want support? Well join us, then!

In my Brave Over Perfect coaching group, we are doing a spring stress detox together. Our next live call is Wednesday, May 9 (you can listen to the recording anytime). Throughout the month, I’ll be teaching research-based techniques for dialing back the stress of our modern lives.

Join now for instant access to the Spring Stress Detox study guide and three live coaching calls. All three calls plus tons of resources are just $20. Learn more or enroll now.