Email overload? Its email OCD!

How often do you check your inbox for new email? Is it of the order of once every 10 minutes? Also, do the following hold true for you:

- You steal a peak at your inbox on the phone while having dinner with your folks.

- You switch to Gmail on your browser after writing every 10 lines of code.

- You have, at least once, responded to an email while driving your car at above 40mph.

- The first thing you do after getting up in the morning is check your email. This is also the last thing you do before going to sleep every night.

Of course this is all because you get too much email. And you need to read all of it and respond to all of them as soon as you can. Wait! Do you really need to do that?

Looking back at my professional career of 10 years, spanning roles from programming to business development to sales, I can confidently say that not more than 1% of all emails that have ever hit my inbox required me to read and respond to them immediately. Yes, just 1%, and I can guarantee that it holds true for you too, unless you do customer support on email and want to be very very good to your customers (which, incidentally we want to be at GrexIt)

And yet, I have constantly used the excuse that I get too many important emails to go back to my inbox every few minutes, causing serious lack of productivity. And now, I can already see that this problem is compounded many times due to access to many more inbox like activity streams from social networks.

The need to check your inbox every few minutes is a bad habit – plain and simple. It is not necessary, it is not needed, and it does not lead to any positive outcome. It only distracts from continuing to do what you were already doing. According to studies, every switch to your inbox leads to a loss of 4 minutes of work because of the switch of attention to your inbox and then back to what you were doing.

Why do we do that then? It is, most probably, because of a deep hunger for information gratification. We love information. More than that, we love to consume information passively. Even more than that – we love to consume information passively when it makes us think that we’re actually working. It helps us indulge in a guilty pleasure without any guilt. It helps us get away from work while allowing us to think that we’re still working.

This is nothing short of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Probably of epidemic proportions in knowledge workers from all backgrounds and functions. And very importantly, this has led a much maligning of email as a communication tool. When actually, the failings are really ours – of the people who use email, and not of email as a tool.


About Niraj

Niraj is the Founder of GrexIt. GrexIt turns Gmail into a powerful collaboration tool by letting you share your Gmail labels. When not working at GrexIt on programming or customer support, Niraj likes to play guitar. Niraj can be reached on Twitter at nirajr.
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4 Responses to Email overload? Its email OCD!

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  2. There’s certainly an element of OCD-like behavior in there – though it may involve other parts of the brain than OCD: some researchers are even looking at outright addiction in terms of brain chemistry. Consider pulling on a one-armed bandit in Vegas, where there is the hope that the next pull will bring the desired coin cascade – with email, it may be the hope that the next check or sync will bring into the Inbox something interesting or pleasant (which most work email is certainly not)…

    And then there are the deeper cultural issues – like the unstated expectation that you must respond to email (at least from you boss) in five minutes, day or night, or else. This goes to what I call “The dark side of email” – see my view at .

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  4. Guys, you are great! Especially the idea that social netowrks are actually “inbox like” and really grab our attention sometimes in an unhealty way. I already subscribe :) You have my permission to hear something from you tomorrow! :)

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