How many times a day do you check your email? Did that number go up during lockdown? Many people found it difficult to create boundaries between home life and work life, when the two merged for a lot of us.
New studies are showing us the amount of stress this is actually adding to our lives. Every time we hear that inbox notification, not only does it interrupt our thoughts, we feel this pull to open it or at least check the sender right in that moment. When you have 24/7 access from your mobile device, it’s difficult to even realize we are blurring work-life boundaries. Often, I believe we don’t even think about what we’re doing. We hear the ‘ding’ and we check it. Especially when that ‘ding’ has been shown to provide us with small hits of dopamine.
When we handle things like email, in the moment every single time, it disrupts not only our thoughts but also our productivity levels throughout the day. If you’ve ever caught yourself feeling like you aren’t getting as much done as you’d like to, this is a good place to check-in and see how your habits around email might be hurting your productivity.
Another study showed that people were much less stressed out when they could only check their email for a limited time throughout the day.
“At the end of the week, the participants rated their stress levels. The people who handled their email in batches, checking three to five times a day, reported significantly lower daily stress than they did during their unlimited email use week. Participants who could access their email at will averaged 15 checks a day.”
Eliminating False Urgency
Another variable in this equation is how soon we are expected to reply to emails. The turnaround time for responding has kind of spiraled out of control. That doesn’t mean ignoring your emails but it does mean that everything is not an emergency. Every email does not warrant an immediate response.
Creating New Rituals
Let’s pivot this habit by looking at what is in your control and what isn’t, and focusing on the former rather than the latter. You can’t really control or change the amount of incoming emails you receive daily. However, what you can control is how you check and respond to those emails. Of course there is no magical number when it comes to how often you should check your email each day because we all have different schedules, tasks, urgencies and so on.
The important thing is to control your email rather than letting your email control your day and you can do that by creating an intentional ritual around how often and when, throughout the day, you check your email. The study I quoted above recommended once per hour, especially on busy days where there might be more pressing issues.
By being intentional about checking and responding, you will break the pattern you’re currently repeating, and will become much less reactive to the ‘dings’. In doing so, you should find that you are less interrupted, less stressed and more productive.