60-Second Mind

Shut Off E-Mail to Ease Work Stress

Workers who turned off their e-mail had lower stress and did less multitasking compared with co-workers who left their in-boxes open. Sophie Bushwick reports

“You’ve got mail.” By alerting you as soon as mail arrives, a constantly open e-mail window keeps you on your toes, right? Actually, a new study finds that closing your in-box can boost concentration and ease stress. The research will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Computer-Human Interaction Conference. [Gloria Mark, Stephen Voida and Armand Cardello,"'A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons': An Empirical Study of Work without E-Mail"]

With the permission of their supervisors, workers in a suburban office took “e-mail vacations.” They did not check their mail for five days. As they and their e-mail-enabled co-workers used their computers, monitors recorded their heart rates and software sensors observed when they switched from one browser window to another.

Workers with access to e-mail had constant heart rates, which indicate a state of high alert. But the heart rates of those forgoing e-mail fluctuated naturally, a marker for being under less stress. Plus, those receiving mail multitasked more: they switched from window to window twice as often as those not checking e-mail.

So, designating times when workers check their e-mail may reduce stress and increase productivity. But the verdict’s still out on Twitter.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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