The thought of being “unplugged” from my email is enough to get my heart rate and blood pressure climbing, but researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) say taking an email “vacation” can actually decrease stress and increase concentration.
The study authors, including informatics professor Gloria Mark, fitted 13 civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston with heart rate monitors. They used software sensors to track how often these employees moved from one computer window to another.
After three days establishing a baseline for each employee in both heart rate and window-switching, the participants went email free for five days.
Before you start worrying about how out of the loop those employees must have been or how desperate for interaction they must have felt, the data showed the email “vacation” led to more natural, variable heart rates. It also cut down on the number of times the employees switched windows, dropping from an average of 37 times per hour to just 18 times per hour.
“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said Mark.
Study participants agreed with Mark’s interpretation of the data. They reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task with fewer stress-inducing or time-wasting interruptions.
Mark added that it was hard to recruit participants for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was okay. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”
That’s right. Without email, the employees got up and walked to see the people they needed to contact. Those short breaks from sitting in front of a computer provided an extra boost of stress relief.
Okay, okay. You might not be able to replicate this study in your own life. You might not work in a traditional office with all of your co-workers within walking distance (these days you might not be in the same time zone). You might have a boss who expects you to respond to every email within mere moments.
Even if that’s the case, you can take steps to “tame the savage beasts” in the words of Stever Robbins with LeadershipDecisionworks. His article Tips for Mastering Email Overload is featured on the Harvard Business School website.