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How Would You Feel If You Couldn’t Access Email?

I just wrote on BlogHer about a recent study conducted out of University of California, Irvine in conjunction with the US Army about how not checking email at work makes you more productive and less stressed.  The topic came on the heels of the derecho that tore through the East Coast, taking with it electricity along with our trees.  I had email on and off for days, and I’m still digging out of all the messages that came in that I didn’t deal with in a timely manner and now need to deal with in a huge pile.  My life experience doesn’t mirror this study.  At all.

But here’s the thing: the people in the study knew that they not only weren’t going to check email but that everyone would be understanding if they weren’t replying to an email in a timely manner.  They were given permission to not do one aspect of their job — dealing with written communication — and their hearts reacted accordingly.  If my boss said to me: “go work on your own.  I’m not going to expect you to check email this week,” I may relax too knowing I have one aspect of my job off my plate.

But that isn’t how life works.

People email you and they expect that you are (1) reading their email and (2) if it requires an answer, that you’re going to answer in a timely manner that is dictated by the importance of both the subject manner and your relationship.  I would love to see a follow up study using these exact same subjects, but this time, have their email access cut off while they know that everyone else still has access to email and people are sending them messages, expecting them to keep up.  Are they still relaxed; still humming through work?

Or would they do what I did during the derecho which was constantly obsess about when electricity was going to return?

Email obviously distracts me from work (as do blog posts, come to think of it), but it’s not just a time suck.  It’s what makes me feel connected to the larger world as I work from home.  It brings those happy distractions, those human connection moments, that make me more productive at work as I touch base with family and friends (or react to amusing emails from my workmates).  Do I sometimes get stressed when I see how much I have to do and my blackberry keeps buzzing with messages — of course.  But the alternative isn’t to cut out email from the work day but to give yourself short email-free work bursts.  I’d much rather deal with 50 messages at the end of every hour or so than to wait until the last hour of the day and try to pound through 400 at once.

But that’s just me.

And I will admit that my email account mixes business and pleasure — I have work and social emails coming into the same account.  Perhaps if I had a dedicated email account used solely for work that never received a personal message I may feel differently, but I think those work-focused email accounts are the exception rather than the rule.  I don’t know many people who never receive a social email on their work account.  And in regards to this study, email is email: in turning off checking work email during the day, you’d also be turning off checking social emails during the day.  And without those, my world would be a fairly grey place.

I need those little social email distractions from time to time.

What about you — how would you feel if you couldn’t check email from the proverbial 9 am to 5 pm?


1 knottedfingers { 07.09.12 at 11:00 am }

I don’t actually work so my email doesn’t really distract me too much. I enjoy getting real emails (as opposed to spam) they make me feel wanted XD

2 HereWeGoAJen { 07.09.12 at 11:52 am }


3 loribeth { 07.09.12 at 1:12 pm }

Dh & I were just away for two nights, & didn’t bring our laptops with us. The desk clerk at the hotel tried to hand us a paper with the wifi access code on it when we checked in, and gave us a very funny look when dh said, “Oh, we won’t need that.” Don’t have smart phones, don’t text, don’t even have our cellphones on most of the time.

And while we were away, I really didn’t miss being online or seeing my e-mail, at all. We were on a 1.5 hour cruise tour, gorgeous scenery — & yet there were people all around us (not just kids either) who barely looked out the window & were constantly pecking away at their phones (a couple of them while their kids were running wild all over the boat & climbing up on the railings, even after being told not to do so by the captain — yikes!). Why bother even coming on the cruise (not to mention spend $25 each)??

Once we got home, though, I’m ashamed to say, it was like Pavlov’s dogs. I couldn’t wait to start up my computer, reconnect, & upload the photos I had taken to Facebook. :p

So yeah — I don’t mind being without e-mail or online access for limited periods. But for 8 hours a day, five days a week? Sadly, I think I’d go nuts. :p

4 Stupid Stork { 07.09.12 at 2:40 pm }

I’ve tried it a few times – particularly when I had an old ass phone that was sans-email (practically a rotary phone). First day was stressful, second was freeeeedom.

5 Ann Z { 07.09.12 at 3:11 pm }

I don’t think I’d be able to do my work without email – it’s how I communicate with students and faculty and vendors and co-workers. And even beyond work email, during the week, my personal email is the way that my husband and I communicate about things like daycare pick up and errands that need running and other little things like that. I’m awful about having my cell phone on me, and at times, can’t answer it, but I can check email. So I think I wouldn’t like being without email at work. I do often go for a couple of days on weekends without checking my email, and that always feels good. In a different job, I had a manager who kept trying to push us to try email-free days, but we were providing software support, our customers expected us to read their emails and respond, again, there’s no way we could have done our j0b without it. I probably would be more productive at work if I didn’t check my personal email or fb or google reader on breaks. But I also think I need the occasional break.

At Carleton college where I work, a class made a documentary film, called Disconnected, about 3 students who give up computers for at least 3 weeks during the academic term – no fb or email, but also no word processing or Internet. They did get approval from all their professors and deans so they wouldn’t have to worry about missing important emails, and so they had permission to turn in hand-typed papers (using one of 3 typewriters left at the school). It’s an interesting look at taking that idea even further.

6 Gail { 07.09.12 at 3:26 pm }

I think it depends on the situation. We went on a cruise for our 12 anniversary a few weeks ago and everyone knew that we would not be checking our email and would not be responding to any of their emails during the entire 7 day period. It was heaven!!
However, we had a major storm on Saturday afternoon that knocked out our power. On Sunday morning, the power was restored, but the internet has been out ever since. Being that I telecommute for work, it has been a tough day to try and do work. Thankfully, my iphone has allowed me to continue to make phone calls and check my email, but it is tough to respond on a tiny screen and keyboard without being able to do everything I needed to do. It was only when my husband suggested that we go to his office to use their internet that I realized that I was missing out on the full internet (blogs). I just hope our internet is back up and running soon!

7 Io { 07.09.12 at 4:11 pm }

For my job I need email. For my personal life, I could be okay all day not emailing…part of the reason I quit blogging was that it was just too hard to keep up th way I wanted to, so I quit it all. (Among other reasons that no longer apply! Yay…I am glad to be back)

8 Sharon { 07.09.12 at 4:34 pm }

Actually, it’s common for me not to check my personal email accounts between 9 and 5 while I’m at work. . . . even though I have an iPhone and could arguably do so within seconds of receiving it. Often times I am busy with work and don’t have time to check it.

Now my work email. . . . that’d be a tough one. I’m a lawyer, and it’s something of an unspoken rule with our clients and others that you will read and respond to emails promptly. (I’ve actually had an expert email me at 11:00 p.m. on a Friday and again the next afternoon who got irked when I didn’t immediately respond. People unfamiliar with the concept of The Weekend, I guess.)

If our (large insurance company) clients, experts and partners expect a prompt response on the weekends, I doubt they’d be very tolerant of my not checking emails all day during business hours. Although, that said, there are sometimes occasions (trials, depositions, and the like) where it is impossible for me to check my work email during the day, and everyone survives. 🙂

9 Sharon { 07.09.12 at 4:36 pm }

Oops, didn’t finish my thought. (That happens a lot these days, sorry.)

If I couldn’t check email, I think I’d feel simultaneously disconnected and freed. My husband has challenged me to go an entire weekend without using my iPhone–from Friday at close of business until Monday morning–and I’m inclined to take him up on that challenge, just to see if I can do it. Smart phones make it (too?) easy to do a quick check of email, Facebook or blogs.

10 Mud Hut Mama { 07.09.12 at 4:37 pm }

We only got internet in our house about a year ago, before that I had over two years where I could get on once a week if I was lucky. I definitely fell into the no one was expecting to hear from me so there was no stress regarding timely responses crowd. I missed it but didn’t dwell on it or pine away for it, however, now that I do have full time access I love how easily I can be in touch with family and friends and I’m enjoying the whole blog scene. We have been having problems with it recently – it is extremely slow which is driving me crazy. If I’m going to have it, I want it to be fast and uninterrupted but that just isn’t going to happen so I guess I should be thankful that I’ve got it at all.

11 Jo { 07.09.12 at 4:45 pm }

With my job, I don’t have the opportunity to check email during the day, personal or otherwise. We are required to check it once a day, but my principal rarely reads hers. I’ve found the best way to handle most things is simply the old-fashioned way: in person. I know that, in the work world, though, I am the exception rather than the rule.

12 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.09.12 at 5:58 pm }

That job would not be a very good fit for me.

I dread an overflowing Inbox. I feel the need to keep it manageable, and staying off for that much of the day would not allow me to keep it under control.

13 a { 07.09.12 at 6:54 pm }

Eh, I check my email constantly, but I actually read very few of them. It wouldn’t bother me too much to be without it, but it would take me a while to get over wanting to check it.

My work email is filled with stuff I don’t care about – death notices for relatives of people I don’t know and notifications that some bigwig or another (again, who I don’t know) will be out of state and someone else is in charge account for the majority of my emails. The one day I’m refreshing my inbox repeatedly, no one was responding to my emails anyway and I had to call to get things done.

I do enjoy when there are personal emails in my inbox…it just doesn’t happen frequently. Everyone I know is a phone person – I am not.

14 Erica { 07.09.12 at 8:51 pm }

I find that I get more work accomplished (& better accomplished) if I set a day for myself to be disconnected. I do still check email on those days, but only 2-3 times instead of the nearly constant monitoring that is my usual practice. No Facebook, twitter, or web surfing, though. And I know people who need to completely disconnect (no email) for a day or two. I think having control of it is key, though 🙂

15 Kimberly { 07.09.12 at 11:28 pm }

I would be lost without my email. Like you, my personal and work email all come into the same account and they all come to my phone. Saying that, I rely on my email when it comes to work. My boss is my father and I’m his office manager. His office is based out of his home but he works on the other side of the country. Our primary forms of contact are phone and email (especially where he works back shift and I work day shift).

Sure sometimes its distracting, but to not have it would cause me more damage than good. In some instances, I can see it helping but for many, email has become an important part of their job. Social or not.

16 deathstar { 07.10.12 at 11:21 am }

I’ve done it the odd time. It was a little stressful at first, then it was fine. I’ve been told my laptop is my umbilical cord. The most email I get is from shopping sites with occasional work related and personal emails. I think my cell phone and email make me feel tethered somehow.

17 Amel { 07.10.12 at 1:17 pm }

In my workplace as a supermarket worker it’s impossible for me to use my mobile or check emails. I guess it’s a good thing ‘coz I get a break from all those online stuff (I spend time with this on my days off). During holidays sometimes I do spend days without checking my emails, but then again I don’t use that for work, so it’s all good. The only bad side effect of not checking my email accounts for a few days or even a week or two is the pile of emails that I have to handle and sort once I log in again ha ha…

18 Bea { 07.11.12 at 8:22 am }

I found it darn near impossible to check email between 9 and 5 for the whole of 2010, 2011. (2012 is the year of one nap during pb’s Kindy time. I get thirty big ones, baby.) So I thin you’re right but seriously, people. Wait a whole damn day for a reply. It has always been totally different to disconnect for holidays vs omg than Internet just went down.

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