October 23, 2019

Checking email less frequently reduces stress (maybe)

Posted by Laura Guertin

This is a blog post I started three years ago. I decided to resurrect it from my drafts folder, since it is still (unfortunately) very relevant today…

I started the Fall 2020 semester with a fresh attitude and a strategy for handling emails (how sad is it that I felt I had to have a “strategy” for getting through my Inbox….). I decided that each day, I would make sure I did not carry any email messages over to the next day, that I would be sure to respond to every message and have an empty folder before I shut my laptop down for the evening.

That lasted four days into the fall semester.

Despite my best intentions, teaching all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays means that it isn’t until late afternoon when I can even begin to look at my Inbox, and after an exhausting day of teaching, I can’t bring myself to get though all the messages.

But am I approaching my Inbox the wrong way? I know I’m not the only one struggling to see where and how email fits in to my academic/work life…



Turns out there is quite a bit of research on the impact of email. For example, I quickly found articles in the journal Computers In Human Behavior titled When email use gets out of control: Understanding the relationship between personality and email overload and their impact on burnout and work engagement (2014) and Checking email less frequently reduces stress (2015). I also found this 2013 article in the same journal, The contribution of email volume, email management strategies and propensity to worry in predicting email stress among academics.

I appreciate the validity of the proven connections between stress and email and managing email, but it seems that many (dare I say all?) of us don’t need research to tell us this…



So what can we do to reduce stress when it comes to email? Jeremy Farrar posted in LinkedIn how he no longer sends emails after 7PM on weekdays or at all on weekends or over holidays and vacations. The result? He reports, “Without doubt I smile more, Iā€™m less fractious or short tempered, more balanced, more relaxed time with family, friends and cricket, in a word ā€“ happier! I also believe I am more productive.”

The New York Times Opinion piece titled Stop Checking Email So Often described a two-week field experiment to see if the frequency of checking emails causes stress. What they found: “The reduction in stress was about as large as the benefit people get from learning relaxation techniques (e.g., taking deep breaths, visualizing peaceful imagery). In other words, cutting back on email might reduce stress as much as picturing yourself swimming in the warm waters of a tropical island several times a day.” Their conclusion: “Constantly monitoring our inboxes promotes stress without promoting efficiency. When it comes to checking email, less might be more.”

This news is all well and good – but changing our behaviors to check email less often is another story (hence the term “maybe” in the title of this blog post). But for less stress, I’m willing to give it a try…. as soon as I get caught up on my Inbox….