Study: Email Is Like Stress In A Bottle

Study: Email Is Like Stress In A Bottle

In a recent study conducted by the University of California, researchers attached heart rate monitors to office workers while also monitoring what programs they were using. What did they find? Probably something you already knew: frequent email checkers are stressed out, and removing the constant email-checking from a worker’s habits meant more focus and productivity.

Photo remixed from David Castillo Dominici (Shutterstock).

People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark.

The key here is that frequent email checkers experience the most significant problems, with researchers suggesting that “controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful.” It’s an idea we’re familiar with, and it’s why just two months ago I suggested turning off push notifications for all your email, recommending instead that you batch your email.

So… what are you waiting for?

Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration [UCI Today via NYT]


  • Tim Ferris covers this in 4 Hour Work Week by setting an auto response telling senders that he checks his email at specific days and times, and if the matter is urgent to call. When you call Tim, he has a voicemail, saying to only leave a message if it’s urgent. When he does email, his efficiency is compounded by the fact that most of the problems which needed addressing have either resolved, he can also focus on those which need it, and, he basically trains his network of connections not to rely on email so much. Brilliant really. This doesn’t necessarily work for everyone though, as email (in the workplace) is an accepted communication method, where people are expected to respond within certain times and with specific response types. It’s all very well if you are self-employed or the CEO, but if you are like the rest of us, you can’t just batch or auto reply everyone. It requires a certain level of filtration and management which the majority of people can’t achieve. Personally, I long to see the demise of email, and the rise of smarter ways to work. The worker should determine the format of the assigned tasks, and the requester should have to align their contribution to this format (eg, if you want to send me an email, go to my ‘contact me’ page and tick some boxes and leave a short, 150 char message). Companies are very good at doing this, they understand that the scope of demand needs to be narrowed, and that the requesters (eg, customers) need to narrow their requests. They also put FAQs and forums to good use, I don’t know why this isn’t used more broadly between trading businesses, or at least to greater effect.

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