We humans are not good multi-taskers. That’s why when people claim in job interviews or on cover letters that they’re proud of their ability to multi-task I always giggle inwardly. When we’re constantly jumping between tasks we’re less likely to be able to completely dive into one task so in the end we end up doing a mediocre job on both. And checking email constantly gets in the way of productivity because it causes us to jump between tasks and as a result, it depletes our efficiency. Researchers have begun to uncover the inward stress that email actually creates in our day. Checking email too often isn't making you better at your job.
Research has shown that the onslaught of email that we receive everyday can be stressful. And more specifically, the frequency with which we're checking email may also stress us out. A recent survey of 503 U.S. employees found that three quarters of them replied to emails within an hour. And checking emails on the hour, or worse, seeing them as they come in and immediately replying can be stressful.
A field experiment, to be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that those who checked emails more frequently were more stressed. Researchers followed 124 adults ranging from students to professors to physicians. The group was split in half and one group was asked to check email as much as possible and keep email alerts on. The other group checked email three times per day and kept email alerts off. Then the groups switched, the more frequent checkers becoming the less frequent checkers and vice versa. Both groups were asked questions about their stress levels and the more frequent checkers were markedly more stressed, feeling like they didn’t have control over the tasks at hand.
This is not surprising because the less efficient we are the more stressed out we get. If you don’t get your tasks done because you’re jumping back and forth, it makes you feel like you’re not in control and that lack of control is what stresses us out. The problem is checking email is like going on Facebook or Twitter in that it becomes habit. In that very second when we’re not being mindful, we end up scrolling through emails and social network feeds. Before long we realize we’ve lost 15 minutes to mindlessness.
Changing habits isn’t easy but start with turning off alerts and sounds that entice you to check email. Allot certain times during the day that you’re going to check and respond to email and don’t check email between tasks. You’ll notice that you seem to have more time in your day and more than that you don't feel overwhelmed by what needs to get done. Being connected constantly isn’t all bad, but at the same time it can drain our days. Don’t let it.
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