Try this today. Count how many times you look at your e mail , either on your PC or on your Blackberry. If you've looked into your mailbox more than at 15 different times, you're addicted !!
E Mail addiction is an under recognised problem. Yes E Mail has been an integral part of life for some time. But it has crept in slowly and virtually taken over the life of the addicts. There was indeed a time before E Mail. In a company that I worked for, the week closed on a Thursday. Nobody could really tell me why such an odd day was chosen. When I read the history of the company, I gathered that in the good old days, weekly reports had to be sent by ship to the headquarters in London. The weekly steamer sailed on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, I forget what. So in order to catch the ship, the week had to be closed on a Thursday for the sales to be collated and mailed from the field on a Friday and then the weekly report be ready in time before the ship sailed. Yes, there was a time before E Mails.
Back to E Mail addiction. You see symptoms of it everywhere.
Walk into any office and look around. You'll probably see rows of people peering into their computers. Granted that some of them may be playing games or browsing the Net. But a majority of them would be busily occupied with Microsoft Outlook. Clear evidence that the most often done activity in any company is reading and answering E Mail. Is that what a company is for ?
Take any meeting. More than 50% of the attendees are typing away on the laptop or on their Blackberry. Its impossible to hold a sensible meeting these days; people are busy E Mailing. Its amazing how people who are incredibly polite and sensitive in real life, turn into rude E Mail monsters in a meeting ; why come to the meeting and be rude to the meeting host, if all you are going to do is to watch your Inbox. Their excuse is that they are "multitasking", which I completely debunk, as its just jargon to say they are addicted to E Mail. For some tips on how to run "Topless Meetings" click here.
Worse are presentations to be made to the Board or Executive Committee or some senior executive. They are all E Mailing away and scarcely listening to you. Why travel 15 hours (in first class) to visit a country and review the business, if most of the time you are E Mailing ? The worst situation I have had was when I had to present to this guy who didn't listen to one word of what I was saying and was openly punching away at his Blackberry. I had half a mind to slip in a sentence in my presentation that he was a dumb idiot and I would have gotten away with it because he wasn't listening !
What is it about E mails that make them so addictive. Almost none of us can resist the sight of an unopened E Mail. Why ? There's almost nothing in business that's so incredibly urgent that it has to be seen in the next 20 seconds. If there was something really that urgent, we'll get a call. And yet we are hopelessly addicted. I think its got to do with a primordial instinct of wanting to know everything. And yet this seems to have been accentuated when mail became electronic. I have worked in the medieval ages before E Mail. The pile of unopened correspondence in the In Tray was a common business occurrence. Very few people were addicted to the In Tray !
The addiction is at the very least a threat to your effectiveness as a manager. At worst it can take over your life. I know of a manager who set alarms to wake up three times in the night to check on his Blackberry !
A detox programme for E Mail addiction would take the form of firstly disconnecting your Blackberry (horror of horrors). And then setting up a discipline that you'll open your inbox on the PC only once in an hour and deal with the mails that are pending in one go, after which you'll shut your mailbox and do something else. Use the time to uninterruptedly do your work for which you are paid for - set strategy, implement strategy, talk to people, read, analyse, whatever. In an 18 hour day when you are usually awake, don't open the mailbox more than 15 times. Join Emailaholics Anonymous.
A google search on E Mail addiction yields 18.2 million responses. There's lots of stuff out there on the dangers and how to kick the habit.
In the prehistoric days , when there was a whole generation of managers ,uncomfortable with E Mail, there was a venerable gentleman I knew, who was terrified of getting on to the computer. His routine was that his secretary would print all his emails, which he would take home in the evening. He would then scribble a response on them which his secretary would then type out and send as e mails the next morning. As young computer savvy kids, we used to mock at and deride this old fossil. Now I am not so sure if he was not the wiser man !