Pretty much everyone can agree: email overload is always top of mind for the average worker. A new study recently discovered that the average employees spends around 4 hours per day processing their email messages.

Every new email notification that pops up on your screen interrupts your focus - even if you don’t even open it. Studies report that it can take up to 20 minutes to recoup full productivity after an email notification comes in. Add that to the hundreds of new emails you might receive over the course of a week, and it’s hard to imagine ever having an undistracted block of time to actually get your tasks done. It’s clear that we need to change our approach to email - and quickly! - if we want to get back to focusing on the things that actually matter - like spending time with family and working on important projects.

Understanding the “why” behind our email addiction and learning ways to build more productive email habits is key to actually living outside of our inboxes. Here are three ways to break email addiction, forever:

Become a Batcher

Get out of constant-response mode and become a “batcher.” Batchers block off time in their calendars to power through their inbox, and then ignore it the rest of the time. “Reactors”, on the other hand, check and respond to messages that come in throughout the day, which is a recipe for non-stop distraction.

“Email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, rather than send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international relations at Princeton. “If you are caught up on your email, your priorities are in the wrong place.”

Sure, chipping down your unread messages can make it feel like you’ve made consistent progress, but it’s a false sense of performance. Studies have shown that batchers are more focused, less stressed, and maintain a higher state of happiness at work. We think that’s a pretty compelling debate against multitasking when it comes to email.

Adopt the Productivity Pyramid

Entrepreneur and bestselling author Seth Godin created a “productivity pyramid” in which he outlines steps for optimizing personal productivity. At the base of the pyramid, the simplest method is to work harder and get better at finishing your tasks.

As you keep climbing the productivity ladder, steps include finding people you can outsource your tasks to at a lower cost and invest in technology that boosts your output.

At the top of the pyramid, he places the peak of productivity – evaluate better things to work on.

“It turns out that the most productive thing we can do is to stop working on someone else’s task list and figure out a more useful contribution instead,” Godin said. “This is what separates great organizations from good ones, and extraordinary careers from frustrated ones.”

Shift Perceptions Around Email Priorities

Email is your to-do list that other people can write on. Be proactive and focus on your own to-do list first. Scan your inbox for urgent and important items in the morning, and then work on your top priorities. Dedicate blocks of time to processing email, and treat email processing as one of your priorities—not the default priority #1.

If you’re ever drawn into “doing email,” ask yourself if clearing your inbox really the best use of time right now. Eventually it will be – but make a conscious decision about it. Don’t forget, you’re in control!

No worries - it will take time to figure out the organizational method that works for you, so you can finally say goodbye to email addiction once and for all. Meanwhile, you might even try out an email management tool that uses algorithms to identify what emails are important to you, so you don’t even have to think about it. You can even delay this until you’ve gotten some bigger, more essential priorities out of the way - because the important things in life should always come before email.

Author bio:

Dmitri Leonov | VP of Growth at SaneBox

Dmitri Leonov is an internet entrepreneur, leading growth efforts at Sanebox. He has over 10 years of experience in startups, corporate strategy, sales strategy, channel development, international expansion and M&A.