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How to Diagnose and Cure Your Smartphone Addiction

Simple Techniques for Controlling Your Email Inbox

Are you a smartphone addict?

Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery!

Has checking your email become almost as natural as breathing? Do you find yourself twittering from your Blackberry while on vacation or sending calendar items from your iPhone during your anniversary dinner? Are you experiencing phantom rings even when your smartphone is lying peacefully in the other room? Have you been forced to claim email bankruptcy or practice "email-free Fridays?"

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be a smartphone addict.

For most us, checking the inbox is almost as natural as breathing. Though email is an essential communication tool in the modern working world, it is also a distraction. And, let's face it: email is alluring. Once in awhile you'll open your inbox and find something truly exciting-- you got the new job, or your good friend is getting married—and there's no way to predict when you'll get those messages, which is why a smartphone isn't just convenient, it's a vital work tool. However, it's easy to quickly lose control of your life and fall into Blackberry, Treo or iPhone addiction.

There are simple indicators that you're a smartphone addict:

  1. You can't go five minutes without checking your inbox.
  2. You have more than five email accounts.
  3. You respond to messages on your Blackberry in the middle of the night.
  4. When your inbox says, "no new messages," you hit the refresh button just to make sure.
  5. Checking email constantly is also a way to prove you're "always on top of things," and can respond instantly.

Fortunately, it's not just you!

Experts say that as many as 6 percent of smartphone users could be termed addicts. According to a Rutgers University study, being addicted to your Blackberry is similar to being addicted to drugs. No wonder the device was coined "crackberry." It's a tough habit to break. Forty-nine percent of people say they keep their email devices nearby when they sleep so they can listen for new messages.

But how do you cure smartphone addiction?

First, admit that your phone is managing you. It's simple, but once you confess there's an issue, then you can deal with it. Then try telling your colleagues that you're only checking your email at certain times of the day-- so then they don't wonder why they didn't get the instant response that they're used to. For example, say you're only going to check your inbox when you get into work, then again at 10:30 a.m., after lunch, and at 3:30 p.m.

But what if the day becomes a whirlwind and you break the system you set up—it's just automatic that you check it as a break from that big project.

Here are other simple ways to take a quick break:

  • Step out of the office for some fresh air.
  • Instead of responding to colleague's email with another email, go over and tell him or her the message face-to-face.
  • Take 10 deep breaths, and don't think about the project the whole time.

Also, keep in mind these rules for basic email interaction:

  • If it takes more than four exchanges, the subject should be discussed over the phone.
  • Keep your inbox tidy. Delete all messages you no longer need.
  • Unsubscribe to all the newsletters you receive. It may be fun to read about that unbelievable cruise deal, but it's rarely useful.
  • Keep one professional email account and one personal account. Make sure these two accounts stay separate. 
  • Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in your emails. Not only will this make you appear professional, it will also tone down the rapid-fire interaction that makes email so addictive.
  • Let new messages pile up in your inbox. Then devote time to responding to each one. Frequently a steady line of thinking is interrupted by a new message notice.
  • Don't check email first thing in the morning. It can wait until you get to work.

Trouble at home?

Many smartphone addicts at work bring their addiction home, too. Once you've decided to take control of your addiction, tell your spouse or significant other—he or she will likely be more than happy to help you. Try turning the computer off during certain hours to avoid any temptation. Leave the Blackberry at home when going on errands or relaxing with friends. And remember: It is just as impolite to use the iPhone at dinner as it is to jabber away on a cell phone. Here are some other times that you should leave digital communication behind:

  • Vacation. Remember that it's your time off from work. You need to let rest so you can return to work rejuvenated.
  • Church. Reports of congregants using Blackberries during the service are on the rise. Remember what's really important.
  • Parties or weddings. These are the last times you should be thinking about work.
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