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ADHD and the Inbox

Email has become, to put it mildly, an extremely common means of communication. Some surveys suggest that the average professional spends over two and a half hours in their inbox every day, checking their email about 15 times in total.

EmailFor any ADHDer who spends anywhere near that amount of time reading or responding to emails, you can bet that ADHD symptoms are going to show up in their email habits at some point. For example, I’ve noticed the following inattentive quirks in my own email usage:

  • Inbox 5,000: I gave up on the losing battle against unread emails quite some time ago. These days, when I open my inbox and see that the number of unread messages continues its slow, daily march through the four digit numbers, I know that all is right with the world.
  • The phantom attachment: Do you remember the day Gmail implemented the feature that asks you to check yourself if you write “I am attaching…” but then don’t actually add an attachment? I do, because that day changed my life.
  • Playing the long game: Who says email has to be faster than snail mail? The skillful procrastinator can stretch the time to a reply well beyond any reasonable expectation. “Sorry for the delayed response,” as they say.
  • The wrong words, the wrong amount of words: Inattention can affect the content of emails too. As you know if you’ve ever sent an email with a typo that made the thing more or less incomprehensible, or an email that rambles on more than your uncle after his third glass of wine at Thanksgiving.

That said, I like email as a means of communication. In many ways, it meshes well with ADHD symptoms.

Consider the organizational aspect. Once you let go of the unnecessary desire to achieve inbox zero, keeping a functional inbox requires basically no bookkeeping work. The nice thing about virtual messages is that, unlike paper messages, they really do just disappear from sight if you ignore them.

The other convenient aspect of keeping up with emails is that you can do it while waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting on the bus, whatever. Thanks to smartphones, this goes not just for reading emails, but for writing them too.

So despite possible inattentive snafus, email seems like a pretty good medium of communication from an ADHDer’s perspective. Just be sure to listen when Gmail asks “did you mean to add an attachment?” and, for the sake of all that is good, remember to proofread the list of recipients!

Image: Flickr/Tamera Clark

ADHD and the Inbox

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). ADHD and the Inbox. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jan 2020
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