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5 Ways Email Can Completely Ruin Your Life

We're hooked on email. And it's driving us batshit crazy.

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I’m a writer, and back in the day I used to curse the phone for daring to interrupt my flow with its shrill cry. I cheered when email arrived. It was quicker than lightning. Easy to use. Saved paper and stamps. And it didn’t ring!

But my one-time savior has turned on me. By day's end my hand is a cramped claw, contorted from hitting the “send” button repeatedly and cranking out one – or 50 --  too many emails.

People keep claiming that email will die, that some new technology will replace it. But it lives on. And on. And on.

Sure, email can be a great thing. But it can steal our lives if we let it. From killing our personal time to screwing up our work patterns, here are some of the ways email can really mess us up.

1. Kills Work/Personal Time Balance

StrategyOne, a market research firm, asked Americans how they feel about the balance of work and home life. Turns out that 89 percent of poll respondents were unhappy with the balance, and 54 percent called it a “significant” problem.

Work is dominating our lives even when we're not actually in the office. Job insecurity and the fear of not being perceived as performing chains us to our inbox, even if we work remotely.

Many of us live in a work culture where we feel we have to respond to emails at all hours. No matter that we might be involved in offline work or activities that should command our full attention. Or—perish the thought -- engaging in personal time. Email follows us into the car, to the dinner table and even to the loo. (No kidding. See: “ Checking Email in the Bathroom? You’re Far From Alone.”)

I've been on dates where no matter how special the occasion, my date has pulled out his iPhone and checked his email. I have a “three strikes you're out rule” on that one. First, I ask you to stop. Second time, I give you a warning. Third time I’m gone. If somebody is driving me, they get one warning. And yet I am perceived as strangely intolerant of what many consider normal behavior.

When we scratch out a few vacation days, instead of the declarative “I am on vacation, and will respond to your email when I return,” we post the timid “I will only check email infrequently,” or the semi-plausible “I will have limited access to email.”

Even if you’re in the hinterland, there may be plenty of “access” to email. Does that mean you should use it when you are supposed to be recharging? It does not. Part of the problem is that we fear the return to work and the pile of unanswered email will be so gruesome that we cave in and check once – twice -- and pretty soon we’re checking email during the sunset dinner cruise. The vicious cycle consumes us. We can’t switch off, and it’s turning us into stress freaks.

2. Screws Up Productivity

In her article “ Busyness vs. Burst: Why Corporate Web Workers Look Unproductive," Anna Zelenka described two different styles of work. One privileges things like face time, strategic long-term planning, return on investment, and hierarchical control. That’s the “busyness” style. The other, the “burst” style, favors innovation, flat knowledge networks and discontinuous productivity.

We need both styles: the busyness types keep the trains running on time; the burst types provide the creative spark. Guess which type lives inside their email? The busyness types. That’s where they store documents and conduct most of their work. And they tend to demand an immediate response to email. The burst types, on the other hand, tend to use other forms of communication, such as wikis, IM, chat rooms, SMS, and RSS. They work intensely for a period, then need downtime to recover and refresh – time in which they are not checking email. That doesn’t sit well with the busyness types, writes Zelenka:

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