How To, Health & Psychology — 07 February 2016

Creative habit-changing solutions offered by Kate Bratskeir. Published in The Huffington Post on January 12, 2016.

Not that you needed research to confirm this, but now you have it: Your inbox and email habits are stressing you out. Officially.

According to a recent study conducted by the psychological research group Future Work Center, email practices and culture are causing users stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. The group analyzed previous research around email use and surveyed nearly 2,000 people who had varied roles in a variety of industries in the United Kingdom. They found that push notifications and work experience in particular have a lot to do with perceived pressure around stress.


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Of course, email can also cut stress in many cases. For example, people in different time zones can swap information at their convenience (no more staying at the office late to call China). And since email is saved and archived, it is easier to clear up differing accounts of a conversation.

But in some cases, email can be too convenient. “It provides too easy a channel for communication and results in people sending messages they might not otherwise deliver to someone’s face or over the telephone,” the researchers wrote in their report. “This increases the volume of emails sent and received, which can make it harder to keep on top of incoming email and prioritize those that require action.”

Email isn’t going anywhere: There are 2.5 billion email users across the globe and 1.1 billion people access it on their mobile devices. That latter number is expected to double by 2018.

So while it’s unrealistic that you’ll rid email from your world, there are ways you can help yourself manage the madness, according to researchers. We’ve rounded up what the researchers found to be the most stress-inducing aspects about email – and what you can do to make sure they aren’t making your life more stressful:

1. Ditch the push
Do you really need to know that Gap is still having its 40 percent off promotion right this minute? Forty-nine percent of people surveyed have their emails automatically sent to their inbox without having to manually access the server or prompt their phone to sync email. The ensuing notifications that may pop up are distracting and highly associated with perceived email stress, according to researchers. To remedy this, opt out of push notifications and be on your merry way. If that’s too scary, follow this how-to to receive the notifications only when you receive emails from VIPs. You won’t have to stress about missing a note from your boss but can ignore everything else until you have time to deal with it.

2. Remember: no one else knows what they’re doing either
While it’d probably be smart for companies to state their email etiquette, most don’t. According to the researchers, “Perceived email pressure was highest in younger people and steadily decreased with age.” They have a hunch that this might be because people who’ve worked at a place for a while pick up on the enigmatic email rules and become more comfortable communicating this way. Whether you’re a newbie or have been around the block, your best bet is to mirror the email style of your boss, Lindsey Pollack, a millennial workplace expert and author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaderstold The Huffington Post. If your boss sends a short email, you can probably respond with a short email. And when in doubt, skip emoji.

3. Checking early in the morning or late at night is a death sentence
OK, it’s not a death sentence, but it could be slowly killing you. Constant connection early in the day and right before bed is associated with feeling more stressed out by email. And if checking email isn’t an early morning must, you should try to break this habit. Experts advise crossing off the hardest thing on your to-do list first for optimal productivity. Tackle a tough project, and then follow it with some time sifting through your inbox. As for screen-loving night owls? Please power down. The habit can affect your sleep and your focus the following morning. You’d be wise to keep technology out of the bedroom altogether.

4. Feeling inbox stress? Work on your self-esteem
This is a sad one, but a good reason to work on yourself and learn to like the person you are. Researchers found that those who were down on themselves perceived their work-life balance as hard to manage, while “those with higher core self-evaluation believe they have more control over their situation and are therefore less impacted by their jobs.” Finding happiness outside of the office and seeking out ways to reduce your stress other than getting your inbox to zero will likely have a positive impact on how you feel about inevitable scary email you receive every now and again.


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