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?