Take an email vacation

When you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress

Man writing email
Emails are a significant contributor to work stress

The mail from your boss reminding you about impending deadline. That from your colleague discussing work problems, the mail that you have to write to the client explaining a glitch...merely thinking about them can cause great stress and lowers productivity. University of California, Irvine and U.S. Army researchers have found that cutting yourself off from work-related emails greatly reduces stress, significantly increases focus in employees. To come to this conclusion, the researchers attached heart rate monitors to computer users in a suburban office setting. Software sensors detected how often they switched windows.

It was found that 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. "When you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark.

Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often—about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.” Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said.

Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems. But simply taking a break from emails can help significantly lower stress levels.

University of California Irvine

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