Are you one of those types that has a strict policy of not checking your work email when you’re not at work? If you are, good on you because you’re doing you and your heart a huge favor. In fact, you could do yourself an even bigger favor by not checking your work email so much when you’re also at work.
This wonderful news is certain to make both obsessively diligent workers and taskmaster bosses cringe comes by way of a new study by UC Irvine and the U.S. Army. The study revealed that cutting out the irresistible habit of constantly checking your email reduces stress and dramatically improves your ability to focus.
Yes, these days, with many of us plugged into more than one device that allows us to check our email virtually anytime and anywhere, the notion of not checking your email might be enough to give you separation anxiety and hasten your heart. Predictably, then, and somewhat humorously, the researchers didn’t have such an easy time finding people willing to sever themselves from the tether of their email.
Nevertheless, eventually enough people were collected so that the research could proceed. The study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” involved a small group of participants who were attached to heart rate monitors as they used computers in a suburban office setting. The computers were equipped with software sensors to track how often the participants switched between screens. Participants worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between sexes.
The results revealed that the people that checked their email flipped between screens twice as much and were in a constant state of “high alert” as they had more constant heart rates. However, those with no email – they were without email for five blissful days – were not perturbed by technology’s siren song and were observed to have more natural heart rates.
“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark, who co-authored the study. The participants who had email felt a persistant itch to check their email and couldn’t help but scratch it: they flicked between screens an average of 37 times per hour. Those who had no email only switched screens about 18 times an hour.
“Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” Mark added. Based on this knowledge of how email impacts people’s ability to stay focused, restructuring the way people communicate in the office could achieve a higher level of productivity. Mark suggested that one way to lessen the nag to check email so constantly was to bundle emails into a batch or even create an automated system that controlled how frequently an employee could log-in to their email.
One negative experience that participants reported was that, due to being disconnected from their email, they felt a bit isolated. If that may be too much for you to handle, Mark said that getting up from your desk and walking around a bit, maybe even visiting your officemates provides some physical rescue, too. Previous studies have advised people stuck behind a desk to do this anyways, as sitting down all day at your job is a deadly occupational hazard.
At what point did the appearance of doing work become more important than not only actually doing work, but producing quality work? In the past few decades we’ve developed this septic complex with how we approach our professional lives where we can never be attentive enough and can’t risk missing the latest memo to the point that our physiological response is a quickened heart rate. As the study discussed above, it’s also fracturing our minds to the point that we’re as focused as an over-caffeinated playground of second graders.
Some of us put in a mind-numbing amount of hours to the point that it’s actually counter-productive. We as imperfect human beings really only have about a good 40 hours to dedicate to productive work in a week. Our brains just aren’t wired for it. Yet we continue onward in spite of the fact that studies have shown that working more than 40 hours a week makes you a less efficient worker over both the long and short term.
So not only are we killing ourselves for our jobs, but we’re not even doing a good job at our jobs.
Say what you want about Google and Facebook with their various bad habits, one thing about them has seemed to remain true: they seem like amazing places to work. Facebook was ranked as the number one place to work in the tech industry in 2012 by due to the feedback from employees and if you’ve ever seen a video of what it looks like inside the Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters or inside the Googleplex, it looks unlike any office you likely have ever worked in. Look at Facebook’s digs in this video and become filled with awe and envy (the Facebook feature starts at 2:08).
It’s like a land of really hip lotus eaters inside that place. So when it comes to the design and approach to work in the rest of the world, why haven’t we taken a clue from these companies?
With nearly every innovation that has advanced our society, we’ve adjusted and changed according to the technological potential of the time. We use computers instead of typewriters, we ditched land lines for cell phones, we send emails now instead of snail mail or inter-office memos. While the environment around our work lives has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, changed so much to the point that it’d hardly be recognizable to someone from 1980, why are we still structuring our jobs the same way we did two generations ago?
We’re literally killing ourselves by trying to keep up with the hare’s pace of technology by riding along with a turtle’s desperation.