'I used to be an email addict, here's how I finally kicked the habit.'

I used to be an email addict.

It was my go-to task for procrastination or when I felt stuck on a bigger and more important task. I would do a “just check” of email many times an hour.

When I was away from my laptop, I used to check my inbox via my smartphone whenever I was in any situation where (god forbid) I might be bored. I would check email when standing in line for a coffee. I would check it when out for dinner with my husband or a friend and they left for a few minutes to go to the toilet. Email used to be the first thing I would check when I woke up in the morning and when I would go to bed at night.

But then I realised something – email was getting in the way of me doing “real work”. I was simply pushing bits of communication around.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests that because of the distractions technology imposes on us, we spend the majority of our time doing Shallow Work – work that is non-cognitively demanding. Email fits squarely into this category. And because of constant digital distractions, Newport suggests we have forgotten how to truly engage in Deep Work – that is, focused thinking where we make meaningful progress on our most challenging but impactful projects.

The first step in getting more deep and meaningful work done is to kick your email habit. Here are three ways to make that happen.

Switch off notifications and go full screen

The easiest way to kick a habit is to reduce temptation. Start by turning off all email notifications that are on your computer so you are not told every time a new email hits your inbox. And don’t just do this on your computer – rinse and repeat for all smart devices to which email is connected.


If you are working on an important project, you are probably using software other than Outlook. Whatever that software application is (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc), put that application on full screen mode so nothing else can creep into your periphery. Both these strategies will dramatically reduce the temptation to check your inbox.

Tell yourself: “I don’t check email all the time”

If you are trying to change a habit, people tend to tell themselves that they “can’t” engage in the behaviour that they are attempting to change. However, research has found that replacing “can’t” for “don’t” makes us 50% more likely to stick to our desired behaviour.

In the case of your inbox, say to yourself (and others) that “I don’t check email all day long” or “I don’t check emails until lunchtime” (which is what I personally say to myself). You’ll be significantly more likely to spend that time engaging in more productive activities.

Set yourself a focus goal

Let’s face it – email can be fun. The best thing about our inbox, which can equally be seen as the worst thing, is that once we enter it, the reward centre in our brain lights up like crazy. Because of the inbuilt addictive design of email-checking (the random presentation of good, or at least interesting, ‘bits’ of news), for most people it is energising and gives us a dopamine hit. We feel super productive responding, and then deleting or archiving, emails, and it generally doesn’t require much brain power.

To take advantage of this, set yourself a goal of doing a chunk of deep, focused work and let spending a few minutes in your inbox be your reward.

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy. Amantha recently wrote a report about how to eliminate distraction, turbo-charge progress on your most important projects, and the ideal way to end your workday. Access the report here.