Pull the switch on that in-box and go on vacation

escaping email on vactionYou have…………….. 240 new messages – Eish !

Facing so…………many urgent requests, frivolous banter, newsletter updates and unsolicited advertisements on a daily basis, could quite literally be a health hazard.

Your in-box can cause your heart rate to speed up – literally. This week’s Neurotechnology Tip prescribes an e-mail vacation.

Heart buzzing and the box

Researchers from UC Irvine strapped heart rate monitors onto a selection of ordinary office workers, to follow how their heart responded to their computer activity. Software sensors tracked what was actually being done on the computer, at the same time the heart monitor recorded heart flitters.

The workers included in the study were not high flying killer corporate types, just regular office Jo’s – going about their normal day to day office jobs.

Normal behaviour for this group of ordinary office workers, included switching windows continuously – so as to ensure every message hitting the in-box was duly noted and attended to. To be precise, an average worker switched windows 37 times per hour.

37 times per hour translates to being in a permanent state of “high alert”. Something which left most hearts quite literally buzzing i.e. the heart rate was continuously ticking at a higher rate.

Going without e-mail

The research team were keen to see if cutting off the e-mails, would help dial down workplace stress.

Finding volunteers for their big experiment caused the research team a great deal of stress. Few of the regular office Jo’s felt all enthused about going without e-mail for a week. Let’s be honest, most of us are a little addicted.

Five days without e-mail

The team managed to bribe convince a selection of people, along with their managers, to go without e-mail for 5 days. The volunteers worked in a variety of positions and included both men and women.

As expected, the experience was good for the heart. Heart rates were lower and more variable, waxing and waning throughout the day – the way hearts are supposed to.

The incessant window switching also dropped. Screen hopping dropped to about 18 times an hour. The ability to focus more on the task at hand, translated to improved productivity.

The biggest surprise of all though, was the improvement in well being. The volunteers did not end up feeling all that deprived by the e-mail shut off. Most felt less stressed and better equipped to do their jobs, especially since time-wasting interruptions were minimized.

Getting out and about on the job

Not being able to shoot instructions, commands and salutations via e-mail, did necessitate a few behavioural shifts. The biggest being, having to get up and walk over to someone’s desk to personally interact with a real live human being.

Moving in itself has inherent health benefits and interacting with a human being provided emotional payoffs too.

The only real negative identified by the volunteers was a feeling of not being in the loop. But it was more a feeling, rather than a reality, most were able to garner the office gossip via colleagues who were still tapped into the e-mail system.

Going on an e-mail vacation

Maybe you’re thinking – no way, five days without e-mail. Hey, that is my response too.

But, this study does offer us a few clues as to how to keep stress levels in check, during the course of an average work day. Disconnecting from e-mail for periods of time during the day, should boost productivity and decrease stress.

Exactly how you choose to take your e-mail vacation, will depend on the nature of your job and your work habits, but do it ! Ideally, a stint on an exotic beach somewhere would be perfect , but more realistic options might include…

  • Controlling e-mail login times – maybe an early morning download, a lunch-time download and a home-time download
  • Batching messages i.e. an hour or two each day is dedicated to responding to e-mails, once the hour is up, shift gears and do other stuff.

Bon voyage !

PS. This is doubly important if you’re using your smartphone to access e-mail !

“A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

To wire up your brain a little each week ………………..

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Did you learn something new or do you have a different perspective ? I’d love to hear from you so post me a comment below

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  1. [...] Pull the switch on that in-box and go on vacation [...]

  2. By » Blog Archive » Round up 11 June – 15 June on June 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    [...] Pull the switch on that in-box and go on vacation [...]

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