“Join the slow e-mail movement! Read your mail just twice each day. Recapture your life’s time and relearn to dream.” (Dan Russell, IBM Researcher)
We live in times of immediate responses and instant gratification. A survey done on emails showed that people check their emails up to eighteen times per hour.
Apart from emails we are distracted by smartphones which send us endless messages from Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter and so on. Not forgetting you can keep pro-actively checking these media as well.
Picture John Twit who has to analyse and report on a new brand strategy which he has just received from the firm’s advertising agency. His boss wants the report in three hours so he can give feedback at a Board meeting.
John starts going through the report but continues to frequently check his emails. Many of them are urgent and require a swift response. As the three hour deadline looms, John gets increasingly stressed and finds it difficult to focus on the report. By the time he emails it to his boss, he is exhausted and mentally drained.
What’s happening to John?
The human brain is wired to focus on only one important task at a time. So when John tries to respond to urgent emails whilst working on his report, he struggles to focus on the brand report.
Also, every time he switches from emails back to his report, he has to reset his brain to focus on the report. John feels mounting frustration as the deadline for the report looms and he faces ongoing pressure from the emails coming through.
The New York Times did a study on 124 people. Half the people were allowed to only view their emails three times a day. The other half were allowed to check their emails with no limit placed on this process.
Within a week the people who looked at their emails three times a day showed markedly lower stress levels. Other research revealed that people communicated more with fellow staff members and remained more focused when they reduced the number of times they checked emails.
Productivity has been sluggish for more than a decade, so it is doubtful that the trend of responding instantly to emails has had a major economic effect. In fact you will probably find that many of the “urgent” emails have been resolved by the time they are opened several hours later.
Breaking habits is never easy to do but checking your emails only two or three times a day will be good for productivity and ultimately your mental health.