WEB & TECH / DEC. 08, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Stop Being a Slave to Email If You Want To Reduce Stress

In a recent article I explored a recent study that had unveiled the biggest email sins we frequently commit in the workplace.  The sins included things such as:

  • regular bouts of email ping-pong
  • automated replies
  • checking your email when with other people
  • responding to emails outside of office hours

These last two are particularly common these days as people can check their emails on any number of mobile devices outside of work hours.  Whilst the promise of more flexible working is not so much tied to time and place, in reality it’s meant that most of us simply put in more work, with extracurricular activities simply bolted on to the normal 9-5.

Whilst the productivity gains from this are disputable, what does seem apparent is the impact of all of this nocturnal emailing is that it boosts our stress levels.

A recent study from academics at the University of British Columbia highlights just how bad email can be for our stress levels.

The study pulled together a group of professionals to test how they responded to a variety of email management routines.  Some, for instance, were restricted in their email usage to three times per day.  Others were placed with much less restriction and given carte blanche to check their mail whenever they wanted.

Whichever tactic the participants were given had to be followed for a week, before then being mirrored in the subsequent week.  So those who had their email rationed were given complete freedom the following week.

Throughout the experiment each participant was surveyed at the end of each day, with the aim being to measure their stress levels throughout the experiment.

Does email equal stress?

Well, it would appear that it does, for that is exactly what the results revealed.

"Our findings showed that people felt less stressed when they checked their email less often," the researchers concluded.

Of course, identifying that something contributes to higher stress is much easier than actually changing the behaviours that cause that stress.  Email is, if nothing else, highly addictive, and the research found that those placed in the restricted access group found it incredibly challenging.  It was almost akin to asking drug addicts to go cold turkey.

"Most participants in our study found it quite difficult to check their email only a few times a day," the researchers say. "This is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress."

If nothing else though, it appears to have provided a sufficient wake up call to the author of the study, who has vowed to change his own email behaviour as a result of the findings.

"I now check my email in chunks several times a day, rather than constantly responding to messages as they come in," he revealed. "And I feel better and less stressed."

Maybe that’s an inspiration to us all.  How often do you check your own emails each day?

Image: ABC News

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