Top tip: easing up on email checking can help reduce psychological stress

Maybe you read this post via mail, and than it might sound all a bit ironic. This new small but interesting study suggests that easing up on email checking can help reduce psychological stress.

In short:

  • Limiting the frequency of checking email throughout the day reduced daily stress.
  • Lower daily stress predicts greater well-being (e.g., higher positive affect).
  • The frequency of checking email did not directly impact other well-being outcomes.

From the press release:

Some of the study’s 124 adults — including students, financial analysts medical professionals and others — were instructed to limit checking email to three times daily for a week. Others were told to check email as often as they could (which turned out to be about the same number of times that they normally checked their email prior to the study).

These instructions were then reversed for the participants during a subsequent week. During the study period, participants also answered brief daily surveys, including information about their stress levels.

“Our findings showed that people felt less stressed when they checked their email less often,” says Kostadin Kushlev, the study’s lead author and a PhD candidate at UBC’s Dept. of Psychology.

Changing inbox behaviour may be easier said than done, however. “Most participants in our study found it quite difficult to check their email only a few times a day,” says Kushlev. “This is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress.”

Kushlev’s inspiration for the study came from his own experiences with email overload. “I now check my email in chunks several times a day, rather than constantly responding to messages as they come in,” he says. “And I feel better and less stressed.”

He also notes that organizations may help reduce employee stress by encouraging their workers to check their email in chunks rather than constantly responding to messages.

Abstract of the research:

Using email is one of the most common online activities in the world today. Yet, very little experimental research has examined the effect of email on well-being. Utilizing a within-subjects design, we investigated how the frequency of checking email affects well-being over a period of two weeks. During one week, 124 adults were randomly assigned to limit checking their email to three times a day; during the other week, participants could check their email an unlimited number of times per day. We found that during the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than during the unlimited email use week. Lower stress, in turn, predicted higher well-being on a diverse range of well-being outcomes. These findings highlight the benefits of checking email less frequently for reducing psychological stress.

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