Feeling stressed? Close your inbox.

Everyone talks about the perils of email. David Jackson in “If you want to get more done” quotes Shane Parrish:

“2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night….
5. Do not check email constantly.”

Cutting our email frequency also decreases stress, according to a recent study published in the NYTs.

The Study:

We recruited a sample of 124 adults, ranging from students and professors to physicians and I.T. workers. In the first week of the study, we told half our participants — chosen at random — to check their email as often as they could each day, while keeping their mailboxes open and email alerts on. Meanwhile, we asked the other participants to check email only three times a day, while keeping their mailboxes closed and alerts off.

At the end of each weekday, the participants reported how the day had gone on a wide range of measures. To assess stress, we asked them, for example, how often they felt unable to control the important things in their life and how often they had trouble coping with all the things they had to do that day.

The Results:

Although the only thing we changed about the participants’ lives was how often they checked their email, we observed a significant reduction in stress when they checked email less frequently. How much less stressed did people feel during their email-minimizing week compared with their email-maximizing week? The reduction in stress was about as large as the benefit people get from learning relaxation techniques (e.g., taking deep breaths, visualizing peaceful imagery). In other words, cutting back on email might reduce stress as much as picturing yourself swimming in the warm waters of a tropical island several times a day.

The conclusion:

“Checking email less often may reduce stress in part by cutting down on the need to switch between tasks. An unfortunate limitation of the human mind is that it cannot perform two demanding tasks simultaneously, so flipping back and forth between two different tasks saps cognitive resources. As a result, people can become less efficient in each of the tasks they need to accomplish. In addition to providing an unending source of new tasks for our to-do lists, email could also be making us less efficient at accomplishing those tasks.”

I am trying a new approach to my email for the next two weeks:

1) I will check email at 930am each day; respond to any email that takes less than 2 minutes; prioritize the rest of my emails and schedule time to respond either later in the day or week.

2) I will recheck email at 430pm each day, and I will check again at 830pm each day.

Note: I generally do not receive any time sensitive emails. For people who do, I don’t encourage trying my idea. But, maybe try closing email 45 minutes before going to sleep?

One thought on “Feeling stressed? Close your inbox.

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