Historically, addictive behaviour was relegated to an association with obvious evils: drugs, alcohol, gambling and faith in the Toronto Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup hopes. Technology has given us a host of new compulsions, which we will hereafter refer to as e-ddictions and which can include online poker, online pornopraphy, online dating, online shopping and online you-name-it.
E-ddicts, like most addicts, do not seek help until it is too late. This usually happens after a catastrophic event, such as a night in which you lose your life's savings in a virtual casino or max out your Visa card chatting up a man you'll never meet, unless you vacation in Ukraine.
I recently experienced a catastrophic event of my own: RIM's servers went down. Even though every other BlackBerry owner was similarly crippled, I thought that I was the only one missing out on "crucial" e-mails.
I was forced to sit at my desktop and e-mail while sitting still. It was then that I noticed the accumulation of 21,346 e-mails in my inbox (including offers of Viagra and pleas to confirm my password at American financial institutions located in North Korea). And as I gazed at my reflection in the harsh blue light of the screen, I could no longer deny it: I am an e-ddict.
Thanks to Google, in a matter of momentsduring which another 12 e-mails had appeared in my inboxI'd found Marsha Egan, CEO of Egan E-mail Solutions, and her 12-step program for e-ddicts.
Marsha had declared the week of Jan. 28 "Clean Out Your Inbox Week." What a great idea, I thought. I'll spend the first 15 minutes of every day deleting unwanted messages. By day three, I was down to 21,187 messages. Although proud of myself, I realized I was spinning into a vortex. So I decided to start an e-ddiction circle. We could meet in my basement. Anyone challenged in public speaking could simply e-mail
the person next to them. We lasted one meeting.
So I e-mailed Marsha. She told me I wasn't alone. According to a recent AOL survey, America's dependence on e-mail has doubled in the past three years. She shared some stats: 41% of users "check e-mail constantly," and another 25% check it "a few times per hour," according to the eROI E-mail Usage Survey. "Businesses don't realize the number of hours that are lost due to inefficient e-mail practices," said Marsha, adding: "You cannot overcome the limitations e-ddiction places on your professional effectiveness unless you admit that you've become
a slave to e-mail messaging."
So what can the e-ddicted do? She shared a few tips.
First, you must own your e-mail. "I do," I reply, "21,187 virtual little envelopes just waiting to be sorted." Not exactly what her program suggests. Marsha said I needed to take control. I can no longer allow myself to respond immediately during a business meeting to e-mails such as, "Should we order pizza or subs?" She's right: I can't get sucked into time-wasting exchanges that don't apply to my business priorities.
Establish regular times to sort e-mail. I wondered what the going rate is for an e-mail-sorting secretary. Marsha laughed and reminded me to stick to a regimented e-mail-checking schedule, perhaps by setting
my program to deliver messages at set intervals.
Empty your inbox every time you view it. Yeah, yeah.
Create foldersanother task for my e-mail-sorting secretary?
Apply the two-minute rule: If an e-mail can be handled and responded to in two minutes or less, take care of it immediately. If not, stop reading and file it in a folder to deal with later.I immediately began applying the rule and spent an entire day whittling my inbox. My newfound sense of power quickly spread to my colleagues. We now compare e-mail numbers as though we're monitoring our cholesterol.
So with the path to salvation laid out before me, all that's left to do is continue to follow Marsha's advice, which I typed to myself in memo format. Unfortunately, I can't find the copy I e-mailed myself. Maybe Bill Gates will show up for my e-ntervention.
Naomi Strasser is president of Aerial Communications Group Inc., a Toronto public relations company.