While the cult of the “zero inbox” has become one of awe and aspiration, it turns out micromanaging your email isn’t much healthier than micromanaging the rest of your life.
After surveying 2,000 workers across a number of industries and positions, the Future Work Center in the United Kingdom discovered that those who love email the most are also the most stressed out by it.
Almost half of the respondents to the survey have push notifications for email alerts and 62 percent kept their email open all day. This was true 80 percent of the time for users 15-24 (though only 50 percent of the time for those 55 and older).
While checking every email is one way to keep a pristine inbox, it’s also a quick way to raise stress levels. The study found a strong correlation between using ‘push’ notifications and perceived email pressure. Checking emails earlier in the morning and later at night equally amped up anxiety. Email pressure was also higher among Mac users, though the study was unsure why (new slogan: Stress Different).
Researchers found that such email stress negatively impacted users both at home and at work.
“Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it’s clear that it’s a source of stress of frustration for many of us,” said Dr. Richard MacKinnon. “But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing.”
Those who rated their sense of control over their environment had lower risk of email interrupting their cool. But what can you do if your personality is slightly more neurotic?
The first step would be to turn off push notifications and hide your email on your phone. The Center also suggests evaluating the reason why you feel the need to check your email in the first place. Are you checking email because you have things you actually need to stay on top of or because you’re afraid not to? Evaluate if 24/7 email is truly helping your productivity and status at work or just extending your worrying. It’s also worth considering how many emails you yourself are sending. Could you synthesize your communication or save more topics for in-person or phone meetings? If all else fails, try speaking to whomever is in charge of email policy at your company about what the expectations for your inbox activity are.