Posted on Jul 11, 2013

1.5 years of Email Dopamine Addiction

10 Productivity Habits

I have an addiction that cost at least 18 months of my life…

updated January 11th 2021

This was not an addiction with drugs or alcohol, and in-comparison the ‘high’ was mundane, just avoiding life and responsibility. Months went by, lost to an addictive and bitter procrastination.

Nobody was worried, on the surface I looked busy and hard working, yet around me life passed me by while I was infused in a dopamine haze.

I’m a recovering addict to email, Skype, Facebook and so many little fun distractions online.

My First Step to Recovery

I lost about 1.5yrs of my life to email and chat.

And then one day I read something which said turn off all auto-checking of email and IM notifications so that you won’t get disturbed when you have work to do.

I felt pretty dumb having spent the last couple of years doing the opposite, allowing myself to be constantly interrupted. After I made that little change things began to get better.

That’s when I realized I had an addiction.

Even without the auto-alerts I found myself constantly being drawn in to see the latest unimportant message I had received.

That was over 10 years ago, before people realized just how bad internet addiction can be.

It was probably the biggest reason the first year of starting an online business was a failure for me.

Email, Facebook, and Skype are still dopamine inducing distractions I still battle with today.

I have to put a lot of things in place, and worked hard to break these destructive habits with better ones.

It’s why I have these unsociable bastard rules in my work environment and I can be difficult to get hold of. I’m a bit like an alcoholic who can’t go to a bar because he’ll relapse.

I’ve literally persuaded myself through and through that email ruins my life. But like any addict that knows the dangers, I’m still tempted every day.

I was the last of everyone I knew ot get a smart phone because I knew once I got it I would be addicted. Now I have to keep my phone away from me in bed, and often put it in another room or out of site, keep it on silent and turn off notifications for most things.

The Shocking Reality

Think about it…

Brain scans have shown dopamine releases when we get email, get a ‘like’ on Facebook, or a new message on Skype.

That sucks us in, and then we develop dependency and muscle memory.

Ever find yourself typing in Facebook, or loading up Skype without thinking about it? That’s muscle memory driven by a desire for a little more communication crack.

Just like injecting refined heroin into your veins, the brain is not engineered to efficiently make use of the internet.

The brain is just overwhelmed and on an incredible crazy binge.

The internet is Vegas for brains – a place of over-consumption, indulgence and an electric environment that leaves you forgetting the real life.

But at some point you have to leave Vegas and sober up…

Like with any addiction its incredibly important to recognize its a problem. One that can ruin your life.

It ruined mine for 18 months, and the recovery has been hard and a constant battle with my over-excited neurons gunning for another Facebook hit, a little Skype injection and a puff of email.

The crack communication addiction does not make you ‘connected’. You’ve just unplugged yourself from what is really important in life.

You’ll find days lost, weeks fade away, and months disappear as you spend your time in endless chat and noise from distant but loud voices all around the internet.

You’ll persuade yourself that these online conversations and all the time you spend on them are very important, until they takeover and you the real important tasks get long forgotten.

It’s called the web because its where you can get trapped.

Don’t be the fly, be a winner

For most people these potentially powerful communication tools just become a distraction trap – and ultimately services like Gmail, Facebook and Skype are designed to distract you, because the more you use them, the more money they make.

It takes a disciplined and sophisticated mind to orientate and grapple through the web’s vast expanse to find the true hidden gold that can enrich our lives, while blocking out the dirty noise.

Bear in mind that we have built-in weaknesses that allow us to be distracted and exploited online. Our brains were never designed to handle this situation and we’re vulnerable.

Companies like Facebook mathematically test the most effective way to get you hooked. They use advanced AI that’s pure goal is to keep your attention. They are incredible at it.

You are up against some of the smartest minds on the planet that continually test what keeps you staying longer and coming back for more.

But you can reclaim your brain and be more productive, get over the tipping point faster, and gain true achievements that can make you happy, rather than be cheated with cheap Facebook and email dopamine hits.

8 Tips & Habits for Better Online Productivity…

  1. Turn of all auto-notifications of Email, Skype, News, Slack, Instagram, Facebook and any other app that you can. If something pops-up you can see, Google how to turn it off. I never see or here any alert, ping, number or pop-up when I get a message from anyone.
  2. Auto-delete/archive ALL email from Facebook apart from notifications of new messages using rules.
  3. Remove distracting features from your devices… for me Google’s ‘Discover’ for news articles was sucking me in, so I turned it off.
  4. Buy a kindle or similar for reading books and keep it offline while you read. I like the Kindle paperwhite as it’s terrible for browsing the internet so I keep focused on reading the book… or better yet… just buy the book 🙂
  5. Only give your phone or Skype to a very small number of higher level employees and be very strict that instant messaging and phone calls is ONLY for something urgent – and define what urgent is. Don’t see this as a way to alienate your staff, they can still contact you via email so you can manage your time, and work on what is important without distraction.
  6. Never start your day by checking email, slack facebook or Skype. It can wait while you spend at least an hour working on something important.
  7. Create a daily list of what you did yesterday, and what you will do today, and start at that first.
  8. If you do have urgent things that come in via email that you MUST look at, set up a separate priority email account, and give it out to only those that will need to contact you urgently.
  9. My first breakthrough with email came to me after I was forced not to check email for 2 weeks while on vacation with an unexpected lack of internet, and everything turned out fine. I realized I had been wasting my time checking email & messages multiple times a day. Be strikingly honest about if you really need to go on email, Facebook, Skype or your preferred distraction so often. Give it up for 1 day and see what happen- were you more productive? Try it for 7 days just to see what happens, discover your limits and be challenged by a new way of doing things that can potentially lead to a breakthrough.
  10. If there’s a site you keep finding yourself on, or typing without realizing, and/or you are having trouble controlling your addition then blocking sites and tracking your time will help. Check out Rescue Time.

Do you have a productivity habit or a way to increase focus? Tell me below…

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  • Pamela says:

    Wow I absolutely love this post!

  • Michael Pehl says:

    True words…

  • Gary says:

    Chris this is an interesting subject as I know this feeling and have done the same thing. I don’t watch TV and I’m on the internet all the time and I was distracted with Facebook and bombarded by emails for every product in the world. Thought I was being productive!! Then last week I had a computer crash and it became a real eye opener to the fact I was out off control disorganized not producing products and wasting time. I’ve got it under control now and really thought wow so self destructive. Truth is I’ve had to start all over again. This must happen to a lot of people…

    • admin says:

      Yes there is an over abundance of information. We actually have a deep desire for more information before making decisions and taking action, because up until recently in human history information was very scarce, and many decisions had real life threatening consequences.

      What used to be a useful trait to be keen to absorb the rare information which came our way, is no longer useful in a world where we are bombarded with information. Instead its important to be selective and proactive about the information you hunt out, and take action immediately rather than later.

      For example, you can have enough information within 30 minutes on how to create a website, yet most people will gather information for months before taking that step. I often find myself falling into this trap and having to force myself just to take action.

      Another big problem is the desire for simple summary information (in other words we want the main conclusion NOW), which makes short emails, headlines etc. so additive. They give us just enough to get an idea, feel good (dopamine hit rewarding finding new information) and can quickly move onto the next. However, this behavior prevents us from gaining a deeper knowledge on a subject which is so important for many areas we’ll need to know about in business and life.

  • Tom says:

    You are so right, and the fact that this is the first comment, posted just minutes after I received your email proves that I am also suffering from this addiction. This is a very hard thing to come to terms with – we’ve been conditioned to monitor everything and respond immediately.

    I plan to implement many of your tips and the very first is to close Outlook and open it 1-2 per day and respond to important messages. Thanks for the reality slap up side the head.


  • Russ says:

    So true and insightful. I wasn’t aware that dopamine is released by doing that stuff, but if that’s true, it makes a whole lot of sense. And I’m quite sure I’ve pissed away far more than 1.5 years doing it!

    Ok, Chris, so here’s the $64k question: As a marketer and heavy user of outgoing email, how do you reconcile what you said in this article, with the sheer volume of emails you send? I guess I’m one of those weird guys who is overly ethical (possibly due to 23 years in the military), but if we now know how not to be the “prey” and get literally caught in the web, aren’t we assuming the role of the predator if we do to other people the very thing we’ve learned to avoid?

    Not that I’m gonna stop emailing folks. They’ve asked to be contacted, right? 😀 It just seems ironic that we, as marketers, are actually distractions, pattern interruptions (not necessarily a bad thing), intrusive, predatory and productivity killers, it seems, in the final analysis.

    • admin says:

      Its about being proactive rather than reactive. So you choose what and when you read information.

      I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and get about 500/day. A small number (3-4/day) I allow to get through to me to keep updated on what is going on and to be influenced by incredibly smart people who inspire me – of these I just read the ones of interest.

      For the hundreds of others I auto-file away out of sight and look at when I am researching something. So if I want to look up a specific topic I can do a quick search through 10,000 emails from the past few months for the keyword on that topic, and I have a lot of recent info and leads to follow for research.

      • Russ says:

        I think you misunderstood my question in para two. I’m not asking a time management question, but rather a business ethics one.

      • Chris Munch says:

        Re: ethics… The situation of information overload happens regardless of whether YOU email or not. That’s not to say you should do something because everyone else, but its important to be aware of the reality of the situation, and not live in a fictional ideal world. If you live in a fictional world you are out of touch with reality and can’t help people.

        The argument ‘if everyone did x we’d be better off’ is moot when barely a minority, if not nobody but you, would do it. It might make someone feel morally superior, but the reality is it changed nothing.

        If you want to change something then you need to set a realistic way for how you can achieve that in the best way.

        When you have a product, service or information which you know and truly is better and of value for your target audience then its your duty to reach them, and to create a big enough company to do that effectively.

        I would not be where I am today if someone had not interrupted me with an email, advert, call, letter or message with the tools and advice which has helped me get where I am, and where I am going.

        Ultimately you as an individual are the ONLY person who can control their productivity and distractions. A post like this can open your eyes and point them in the right direction, but only you can choose to act.

        The reality is most people in the moment will value procrastinating over doing something that will improve their life. If it wasn’t email, Facebook or Skype they’d be tidying the house, on the phone to friends, watching TV, reviewing the accounts, writing out ‘plans’, going for a walk or whatever else they can find to distract themselves.

        People managed to procrastinate perfectly well before the information age. Those that did were unsuccessful, and those that did not were comparatively more successful. It’s no different today, just the distractions are different.

        Limiting your email etc. will only be useful if you replace that bad habit with a good one.

        I wrote this post at the potential expense of losing the attention of some of my great subscribers, and I make this short term sacrifice because my end goal is to help people move forward in building a valuable and ethical business, and productivity and life/work balance is an important part of that.

  • Yinka says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I have been addicted to this since four years ago. Your article liberated me

  • All too true – an easy addiction to acquire but fiendishly hard to get off the endless rolling wagon of Bright Shiny Objects 🙁

  • Hey Chris,

    I just sent you an urgent email could you please check you received it! ~LOL

    Awesome article man. It’s a great idea to turn off the little message that pop up. I have wasted so much time chasing these little messages. I guess it’s another way to procrastinate. I would love to talk about this on my Podcast. Is it okay to use this material. I will of course put a link on the show notes 😉


    Phil de Fontenay

    • admin says:

      Thanks Phil and yes you can read the blog post on your podcast and credit this post. Appreciate the love 🙂

  • Laurie Mills says:

    Hi Chris,
    I am very upset with you about the whole content that you have on this page.

    Why didn’t you release this 6, 7 or even 8 years ago? lol.

    What a great article so correct in what a person should have been doing from the start.

    In all of that time collecting junk and the latest “New Shiny Object” has turned out to be so very expensive and so much time wasted on doing nothing and getting nowhere.

    Information overload is a real problem with a lot of people, like me, you collect and file it and then you never even look at it, such a silly thing to be doing.

    Mind you some things are probably worth it but that is only when you get up off your big fat something and start to use them properly or even just too start would help even if you make a few mistakes along the way.

    Thank you for a great kick up the proverbial and now I better follow your advice and concentrate (not constipate) on what is needed,
    Regards and thanks again,

  • I’ve been applying a lite version of this for several years. I set the server to only check e-mails every 30 minutes (I have multiple accounts – another source of downtime). So I have relatively long periods where I am not being distracted by incoming mail. I know one consultant who claims he only checks his e-mail three times a day. He warns everyone he knows that if something is urgent, they should ring.

    Mind you, this doesn’t help with HuffingtonPost and Facebook!

  • Today was the first day ever that I didn’t get up and check my emails and social media. I got a post done, and worked on some pages instead.

    It was really hard not to do that, but I resisted and got a lot accomplished. It is possible, I just have to make it a habit now.

  • Julia says:

    How very true Chris. Though I didn’t know about the dopamine… makes an evil kind of sense though.

    While I do check email several times a day it’s certainly NOT my biggest distraction. Of course, anybody who is involved in internet marketing inevitably ends up being subscribed to dozens of email lists that can translate into hundreds of emails per day. My rule of thumb for lists is that if I receive almost daily emails from a list that are purely promotional in nature (i.e. buy this product for your online success) and the owner doesn’t include free and useful information then I simply unsubscribe.. Fair enough that they need to earn a living but bombarding me with promotional emails without offering value is a no-no. That’s one thing I like about you… you send good, free info as well as promotional emails. There is one marketer in particular that I will never purchase from again because he creates products that promise the world only to suddenly give you several back end offers that are REQUIRED to make the system work… sheesh!!!

    For me it’s facebook. I use firefox and I see that little number next to the tab title indicating new notifications and it’s almost irresistible to go see what’s there.

    But the biggest distraction is the zynga games on facebook… total time suckers AND totally addictive. Quite frankly, I’m hooked on Farmville 2. I reckon if I logged my internet time I’d probably find I was spending three or four hours per day on that game alone. Just imagine if I spent that time on my website instead. I’m always bemoaning not having time to work on the site but the reality is that I would have heaps of time if it weren’t for the distractions. I’m seriously considering just dropping the games entirely.

    Other time wasting distractions to be wary of are things like stat checking, adsense/website etc.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for sharing Julia, and thanks for the kind comments.

      Dopamine actually drives you to keep seeking a reward – it gets you excited about the result/reward, whether that be winning a sports game, having a fun conversation, or getting an email. It is what drives you for more good stuff – but unfortunately when bombarded with lots of seemingly good stimulation, our brains become to associate things such as ‘likes’, ’email’ and ‘farmville’ as good.

      Ultimately you have to re-train yourself to not like that stuff. See Farmville during work (and maybe any other time) as ruining your life, instead of just a bit of fun.

      Also try to develop little habits to keep you from going on Facebook – logging out and closing the browser window will remove the temptation, and having to log in provides a step where you can catch yourself.

      Be sure to replace your bad habit, with a good habit, like checking your to do list.

      Ultimately you have to want success in your business more than you want to play Farmville or any other distraction. For example, I see something like playing farmville as ruining their life, much like an recovering alcoholic might view taking having a beer as opening the door to take them to a bad place.

  • robert says:

    So true. I have decided that I use the “have to check my email” excuse, many times, just to avoid working on a project. If I don’t work on, and finish the project, the project won’t be a failure, but a work in progress. Is that sad, or what?

  • Heather says:

    Of course, if I didn’t have the addiction, I wouldn’t have opened your email and been here right now commenting when I should be working. 🙂

  • Reggie says:

    Amen, Chris

  • Chris Shearar says:

    What about addiction to cell phones? Especially teenagers – I have a teenage granddaughter and she spends a huge amount of time chatting away on sms or mixit. And yes, this post shows I am also addicted to email, having read yours about 3 minutes ago.

  • Dita says:

    Hi Chris,

    Nice to see a new post on Munchweb. You are so right! Most of us are like junkies and it is getting worse by the day. In a sense I am very glad that Google has introduced the new tabs for gmail. Having everything separated it makes it very simple just clear all the junk and only get to the important stuff. So that solves the problem of email for me, although I do check my email way too often. I guess I am an addict and I will definitely follow your rule # 5.

    But with respect to Skype which is getting more and more popular in the IM circles, I simply have no patience for it. Many groups start well and to the point of the topic only to become a haphazard gibberish as the days go on. So I usually turn it off.

    I have a handle on FB but as Google+ has become such a large player I find myself inundated with notifications. Hopefully, as will become better oriented with respect to G+ I will get a handle on it as well.

    I love your point # 7. How many thousands of emails or various notifications did you acquire during the two weeks?

    Great article, great food for thought. Thanks.


  • Jill says:

    3 years sober alcohol and pills and 1.5 from dangerous Internet activity
    Was off cell for over a year to come off Facebook and texting and then the game addiction reared its ugly head… It’s only Hay Day how innocent right?
    I’m going to delete it after I post this!
    Thanks for writing this!

  • Steve Sharp says:

    Hey Chris, great article and I didn’t open it for awhile. I bought some of your products over a year ago and since unsubscribed to all online marketers. I was so overwhelmed by emails I started unsubscribing to everyone. Now I’ve created gmail filters and it’s a rare occasion that I open an email from an online marketer anymore.

    In place of it I have gotten involved in a lot of training. With all the changes in SEO I’ve immersed myself into social media. This week I said something has to change. I’m making myself crazy! Between handling clients, training, reading articles, facebook, twitter, linkedIn, pinterest and google+ I have lost all time management and organization. I told myself I need to step away from this social media and let my team handle it for me and my clients while I focus on priorities.

    I’ve given up on exercise, entertainment and having a social life has become a chore. Thanks for the wake up call. I have two priorities right now. Figuring out how to turn off all the signals on my phone and getting in the jacuzzi. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Chris Munch says:

      Great stuff! Thanks for sharing & cool on the email filters.

      For your phone I have a crazy solution… try just using it as a phone. My cell phone has never connected to the internet ever, and if I am working its usually nowhere near me unless I am expecting a call.

      • Steve Sharp says:

        Wow, that would be a big step in recovery! 🙂

        I may do it because I still find myself scanning emails. I have put myself on a 9 to 5 work schedule and that’s when I officially check emails.

        Feeling a lot better, more productive organized and exercising again.

  • MarieDi says:

    I won’t dare say how much time of my life I wasted that way. It so puzzled me! I didn’t know about the Dopamine thing, but it certainly fits the behavior. So THANKS for that post. I had already come to a point where I deliberately spend some days without even going near the computer, but once I’m started… Now that I understand what’s going on, I have one more reason to do what I already knew I should be doing.

  • Richard says:

    My God,

    Nail on head…….

    Thanks Chris

  • Christian R. says:

    Getting addicted to the internet is real.

    You’ve have to break away from the time wasters in order

    to be more productive in your ventures.

  • matt says:

    luckily i’ m not addicted to these social media and uses them very rarely. but i’m addicted to other stuff.
    Big companies know how to r make our brain trigger dopamine so that we buy their products. Many ads ate design for this purpose. For example when there is a half naked sexy women in an advertisement, our brain releases dopamine.

    btw can i know what you use to manage your email list? I see that you manage your list yourself. Do you use any script like phplist or sendy?

    • Chris Munch says:

      I use a variety of ESPs for our email list and keep them synced, since it is risky just to rely on one.

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