Email Overload: Checking Your Email Too Much Could Be Stressing You Out

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
If you find yourself under an increasing amount of psychological stress, you may be checking your email too frequently, researchers from the University of British Columbia report in the latest edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Lead author Kostadin Kushlev, a PhD candidate at the university’s Department of Psychology, and co-author Elizabeth Dunn recruited 124 adult participants, including students and professionals. Some of them were told to check their email no more than three times per day for a week, while others were given no such limits.
Afterwards, the instructions for each group were reversed for a subsequent week. During the course of the two-week period, participants were asked to complete brief daily surveys about their stress levels. The findings indicate that people tended to feel less stressed out when they checked their email less often, Kushlev explained in a statement Wednesday.
However, he noted that changing this particular behavior may be difficult for some people.
“Most participants in our study found it quite difficult to check their email only a few times a day,” Kushlev explained. “This is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress.”
The PhD candidate noted that the inspiration for the study came from his own experiences with email overload. He said that he now checks his email in “in chunks several times a day” instead of constantly looking for, downloading and responding to messages as they arrive. As a result, he said he feels “better and less stressed.”
Kushlev also said that businesses and other organizations could help alleviate some of the daily stress that their employees face by encouraging workers, students and/or members to check their email periodically instead of constantly responding to messages. Doing so could also improve their overall well-being, he added.
“We did ask participants to report how much time they normally spent checking their emails and we found people spent about two hours a day,” Kushlev told John Colebourn of The Province, noting that even though people said they felt less stressed by limiting their email time, the participants reported “no difference in productivity” as a result.
The researcher went on to explain that the perception may be linked to an assumption that people who read and/or answer a greater amount of emails are getting more done than those who only periodically check their messages. However, he also said that multi-tasking by reading a lot of emails while trying to accomplish other workplace tasks “often results in a lot of errors.”
Kushlev said that, while other studies have examined stress and technology use, this is the first paper to specifically focus on emails and stress levels. “This is essentially the first research to show a single change in a person’s behavior could have a measurable and statistically significant effect on how stressed out people feel,” he noted. For his next project, the psychology student will focus on stress levels and the use of mobile phones.
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