At night, I like to unplug and put away all electronic devices; so I take out my iPhone, open the Gmail app, and compulsively refresh it about 43 times just to make really sure I didn’t miss any important messages. (I didn’t. Because the last time I checked it was three minutes ago, when I was also pretending to unplug for the night.) Am I obsessed with email? Maybe a little bit; and I know I’m not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 81% of employees in the U.S. check their work mail outside of normal business hours, contributing to the roughly 6.3 hours a day we spend checking email.
We could all use a little technology detox, and research agrees. Emailing is a two-sided argument, because people who have reported it being most useful also say they experience the highest levels of email-related pressure. (Other studies have even found an increased level of the stress hormone cortisol!) While constantly making yourself available does have some advantages, it comes at yet another price: your time. Some research has found that workers who frequently check mail outside of office hours log an additional 10 hours of work every week. Hello, burnout! It’s lovely to meet you!
Checking email too frequently is hampering your workflow, too. One study determined that if people limited themselves to checking email three times a day only, they’d experience less stress, greater accomplishment, and increased productivity.
It’s contradictory to how most of our minds work: We think that by responding to emails almost immediately, we’re handling our business faster. But really, it’s taking us away from whatever we’re currently doing, forcing us into a position where we need to multitask. And as we’ve learned, multitasking isn’t good for productivity either. It comes at a huge cognitive cost. In the end, we’ve created more work for ourselves and lost time overall.
It doesn’t end there. There are physical consequences, as well. A study in the journal Chronobiology International found that checking email at home can lead to gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems. Yes, excessive emailing can actually be bad for your health. (And this isn’t even getting into the discussion of smartphone addiction in general, which has many other scary side effects.)
It’s interesting when you think about it; because we often lament that our superiors expect us to be available whenever they need us, and yet we’ve made ourselves available whenever they need us. It might be time to put your foot down. Sure, there might be a day when a pressing work issue needs tending to after normal operating hours. But responding to email in the middle of the night or Sunday brunch with your family? Now things are just getting silly. We often dwell on the stress of our jobs; and yet, we create more stress by never really clocking out, since we’re always attached to our phones and always present for work. If you want to be a stellar athlete, of course it can help to go the extra mile; but remember that when you do things in excess, there can be physical and emotional consequences. A happy, healthy worker is the best kind of worker.
Are…are you…are you checking your email right now while you’re reading this? Stop it!