Email is addictive because of "operant conditioning":
This means the mechanisms by which behaviour is shaped by its
consequences; how what we do depends on the rewards and punishments of
what we did last time. ...
The most effective training regime is one where you give the animal a
reward only sometimes, and then only at random intervals. Animals
trained like this, with what's called a 'variable interval
reinforcement schedule', work harder for their rewards, and take longer
to give up once all rewards for the behaviour is removed. There's a
logic to this. Although we might know that we've stopped rewarding the
animal, it has got used to performing the behaviour and not getting the
reward. Because 'next time' might always be the occasion that produces
the reward, there's never definite evidence that rewards have stopped
... Checking email is a behaviour that has variable interval
reinforcement. Sometimes, but not everytime, the behaviour produces a
reward. Everyone loves to get an email from a friend, or some good
news, or even an amusing web link. Sometimes checking your email will
get you one of these rewards. And because you can never tell which time
you check will produce the reward, checking all the time is reinforced,
even if most of the time checking your email turns out to have been
So what to do about it?
If a behaviour isn't rewarded then it will gradually disappear. The
problem is that we don't want to remove the reward (email), so we need,
instead, to weaken the strength of the link between the action and the
reward. A simple delay would do this - imagine a five minute delay
between hitting the check email button and getting new email. A delay
is doubly-effective because the longer the delay the more likely you
are to have email and so the more consistent the reward will be.
I didn't find any suggestions that were particularly effective, however.
I'm not addicted to email, per se. I can however surf the web endlessly.
There's always one more fascinating link to follow.