What Would Happen If You Stopped Checking Your Email At Work?

email time management workGoing email free on weekends is a time management best practice. Every guru seems to agree that you should misplace the iPhone or Blackberry on Friday night, and check it only once or twice for emergencies before Sunday evening. That way you can feel relaxed without feeling tethered to work. But here's a twist on this practice: Could you go email free at work?

That's the recommendation coming out of a new study from researchers at the University of California at Irvine and the U.S. Army. After observing a group of civilian employees at one of the Army's sites near Boston, they then had some go without email for five days. That's five working days, by the way.

The result? The no-email group reported being better able to do their jobs and stay on task. And the data backed them up. Co-workers who could check email switched screens on their computers 37 times an hour. Those who were on email vacations switched only 18 times an hour. They also felt less stressed, which the researchers found a bit surprising. After all, email is often necessary to our jobs, and not having access to it would feel like working with a hand tied behind your back. But apparently, that hand enjoyed being tied there.

The researchers talked about ways that companies could manage email checking, like controlling log-in times or batching message delivery. This seems a wee bit extreme, but I sympathize. We often forget that, for most of us, email is not our job. It is a tool to do our jobs, and it has a tendency to get out of control. Inboxes are a bit like slot machines, with rewards (a useful or fun email) coming often enough that we keep hitting refresh in a compulsive manner.

I'm trying to keep my weekday email checking under control by scheduling my days more tightly -- putting big projects on my schedule at certain times, rather than just putting them on the day's to-do list. Knowing that I'm supposed to be working on a column from 9:30 to 10:30 does seem to keep me focused. I also close the browser window with my inbox, and turn off my iPhone. Resisting temptation is tough -- but worth it.

Could you go email free during the workday?


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