Why Is It So Hard To Break Free From Email Addiction?
Have you had moments where you feel an impulse to check your phone, even though you did so two minutes ago?
I remember the first time I suffered from this ‘twitch’, a compulsion to glance at my phone just because I wanted to see if I had any new emails.
Email was like crack for me back then. Each ‘ding’ noise from my computer or phone could represent a potential sale, or payment receipt email where I made money. It’s not hard to get addicted to that feeling, yet it’s dangerous because your brain can get used to that quick hit of dopamine and then go looking for more and more throughout the day.
Email Addiction Is Real
As we have grown the InboxDone.com email management service, I’ve been surprised by how much of a challenge it can be for people to let go of their email.
Then again, I really shouldn’t be that surprised, as I too had to break the addiction. It was so long ago that I have forgotten what it feels like to transition away from being the only person in charge of your inbox.
I can recall the feeling of worry, wondering if I was making a mistake not personally handling every email that came into my inbox. After all, I knew my business, my products and services, better than anyone else. No one could replace me, so surely I would lose potential customers if I handed over such an important channel of communication to someone else.
It wasn’t just lost potential customers I had concerns about. I also didn’t like the feeling of not knowing what came through my inbox, it felt like the command center for my business and my life.
There was a part of me that was a control freak — I had to know what emails I received and how they were replied to or I felt like I’d lose touch with what was going on. Even if 99% of the messages had no impact on what was important to me, I had to see them.
It’s crazy to think how many hours of my life were lost to opening, scanning, replying, filing and deleting emails that ultimately didn’t even matter. To make it worse, I did this job knowing full well that the volume of emails coming at me every day was increasing, so I was spending more and more time just to keep up.
I was addicted to email, and it was a task that would never end and only grow bigger over time. Looking back, the decision to control my email by myself was the biggest productivity mistake I ever made, despite being something I could have easily handed over to someone else.
It took me a full seven years before I finally decided that my email could be, and should be, outsourced to another human being.
At First Email Is Not A Problem
When you start a business or begin life as a freelancer or consultant or start a new job — or just get internet access for the first time — email quickly becomes a daily activity.
Email is a mandatory tool. You need to register for services like apps, online banking, social media accounts, services to build your website, email marketing software, lead tracking and analytics tools, webinars and other training, and the list goes on.
You also start to receive email newsletters and update emails, usually a followup email series for every service, software and subscription you sign up for, not to mention email notifications from social media, apps on your phone, online dating, online banking, online investing, car sharing, house sharing, flight and hotels, conferences and meetups and on and on and on.
All of this can quickly lead to a very busy inbox within a few weeks, and then that’s it — you’re just like everyone else, spending a few hours a day on email.
As time goes by and your business starts to grow, or your career starts to take off, your inbox gets even busier with prospect queries, support questions, customer requests, meeting and appointment notifications, requests to speak at events, podcast interviews, people looking for a job, emails from your contractors, journalists, investors and partners.
All of this attention at first can be exciting and motivating. It’s a sign that your life is taking off, you’re succeeding, making money, your future is bright!
However, it doesn’t take long before you realize every time you make the decision to dive into your inbox is time you are not spending doing the work that actually matters. Soon you find yourself spending long days doing your main job, and then you head home and spend your evenings catching up with emails. I’ve frequently met business owners who have to get up early in the morning, even at 3am, to continue keeping up with their inbox.
You Can’t Win This Battle
There’s an insidious catch-22 to the scenario I’ve just described.
Your email inbox contains opportunities, knowledge and relationships that matter. You know it’s important to stay on top of your email because the seeds of growth are there.
Yet, as those seeds grow and begin to flower, you have to actually do the work to realize results, which takes time, energy and focus.
Doing the work takes you away from your inbox and thus you feel like you’re missing out on opportunities. You start to drop the ball a bit when it comes to managing communication, or even worse — not serving your customers as well as you could and not doing a good enough job to chase up potential new customers that are sitting there in your email inbox.
Ideally, you want to grow, deliver great value to your customers or clients or just do a good job at whatever your core tasks are, and at the same time maintain a rapid response rate to everything going on in your inbox.
This is an impossible outcome for one person to achieve. The more successful you become, the less you will able to personally handle all these tasks.
What About Systems And Automation?
If you’ve followed my journey as an entrepreneur you know I spend a lot of time talking about systems, automation, and using simple business models.
In my upcoming podcast episode on freedom I talked about how one of the most important decisions I made was to hand over my email to someone else.
What you may not realize is this wasn’t simply a case of someone else logging into my emails and just doing what I used to do.
I knew there was so much more I could do with email but never had the time to finish. For example:
- There were more templates (canned responses) I could create to handle common situations that I just never got around to creating
- I wasn’t making good enough use of folders/labels and filters to automatically sort my emails
- When a person emailed in and asked about my products or services, I knew I should follow up with them using some kind of systematic sales process, but instead I was sending one or two fairly random emails whenever I had time (or remembered to do so!)
- There were times when something negative happened like a refund request or cancellation came through and I thought again it would be good to have a system to make special offers and learn more about why a person wanted to cancel, yet I didn’t have the time to do this well (it would also be nice just to not have to deal with this aspect of my business as I found it depressing and frustrating)
- Plus it really bothered me that I couldn’t offer the basic courtesy of a speedy and personalized reply to the people who contacted me — and these were my customers, my blog readers and podcast listeners — my community, the people who mattered most to me and my business, yet there was no way I could keep up with this task myself
These are just a few of the areas where I felt a significant need for systems and processes, simple things like a series of template emails that can be rolled out for certain situations, but I didn’t want to build them myself.
Having these kinds of systems in place also makes sense for the future. If you ever need to train someone else to take over your email or even sell your business, all the templates and processes are already in place.
If you’re really smart, you will have the person who takes over your email build all these templates and processes, AND you will also have them create documentation and training videos to show people how to use the systems they create.
By doing this not only do you have someone take over a job you shouldn’t be doing, they also do a better job, create systems and processes, and document those processes for the future — plus they can be there at the front line offering the common courtesy of a speedy reply to every email, which is so important for nurturing your community.
This is what real business building is all about — and I knew it at the time — but I didn’t want to do it.
But It Costs Money!
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome in letting go over your email is the financial aspect.
When I first hired an email manager I knew it made sense for me personally as it would free up time and reduce my stress significantly.
The last roadblock was being willing to invest the money to pay someone well enough to do a good job at this task.
Email is important and I didn’t want to hand it over to an $8 an hour overseas contractor. I thought about how much I’d be willing to invest to free up this part of my life and decided I’d be willing to spend about $1,000 to $2,000 a month to pay someone well enough do this job to a high standard.
That can be a lot of money, although once I made the transition, I quickly realized I actually made more money having someone else handle email.
First of all, it freed me up to work on other tasks, much higher value tasks (in fact this blog you are reading now was born because I had the time to work on it after outsourcing my email).
Also, because my email manager was able to do all the followup I mentioned above, they brought in new customers and stopped people from canceling and refunding. I probably could have also got these customers myself if I replied to the emails, but it sure felt good to know that my email assistant was closing sales while I was out living my life or working on other projects.
Obviously you need to be at a certain point in your business or with your job to benefit from and afford to pay a person to take over your email. If you’re already making money, you have emails piling up and there are more important things for you to work on other than email, that means you are ready.
It’s Smart To Let Go Of Email
It’s strange to me that the last thing we think to outsource is our email. We happily hand over tech work to tech people, ad management to ad buyers, copywriting to copywriters, publicity to PR professionals, accounting to accountants, and so on, yet email we continue to hold on like it’s ‘our precious’ one thing the way Golum does with his one ring from Lord Of The Rings.
We all know the we should be working ON our business, and not IN it, if we want growth, yet we spend so many hours in our email inbox doing busy work that doesn’t matter. It’s time for you to change that.
I fully embraced all the ideas I talk about in this article over the last few years. Currently I check my email once per month.
At one point I even had three people managing my email inbox so we could provide 24/hour support and rapid reply times to my potential and current customers.
My team built followup systems to chase up customers and reduce refunds, came up with over 100 templates to use in common situations, and created training videos showing how to do common tasks in my business that involve email (for example, syncing a customer up in our membership software).
All of these things you can do too — optimizing your business, making it run more like a machine — meaning it’s not dependent on you, delivering speedy replies to all incoming email so you deliver amazing customer service and grow your community. This is great because it frees up your time to do more important things, and it increases the value of your business because it runs without you.
If you work a job, the time you save from not doing emails can help you land more clients, give you space to focus on your most creative tasks, and thus help you advance in your career.
These outcomes are only available if you take that first step and make the decision to let go. Let someone else handle your email because you trust they can do as good a job as you, if not better.