Does Email Stress You Out?

A new study found that people who avoid regularly looking at email experience less stress and increased productivity.

Gloria Mark, informatics professor and co-author, says “We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress.”

Does being continually connected provide benefits to information workers?

…being continually connected on email has also drawn criticism, expressed by Turkle, who writes “we don’t do email, our email does us”. Bolstering this view is a result from a study of email use where 45% of participants associated email with a loss of control.

How much attention does email demand?

on average, information workers engage in more mediated communication each day than face-to-face communication, of which email is the most common. … 70% of emails were attended to within six seconds of arriving. Email may not be distracting if workers quickly returned to their interrupted task; however, it took an average of 64 seconds to resume an interrupted task.

How often do information workers switch tasks?

Observation of information workers reveals that they switch tasks on average every three minutes.

And much of this “task-switching” involves email:

Much switching concerns email: studies show with consistency that people spend about 23% of their time on email [8, 25], with an estimate that people check email about 36 times an hour.

How does email create overload for people?

Managing the sheer volume of email is one factor, but the more time spent on email, the more likely it creates a feeling of overload. Poor email management strategies also play a role, as does the effort to keep track of separate email threads. Recipients generally need to meet the task demands of the sender, which can exacerbate this sense of overload.

Some of the findings:

not having email led to more face-to-face interaction. On the whole, the informants reported that they enjoyed their social life at work with their colleagues more when email was cut off.

Increased focus:

Our quantitative results showed that in the No Email condition, people switched tasks less and spent longer durations on each window screen before switching.

Email changes the pace of work

Our findings suggest that email speeds up the pace of work. Participants switched between windows more often, and the amount of time they spent in any one window before moving on was shorter with email. At the same time, from the interviews, nearly all informants reported that email creates expectations that the receiver will respond quickly. When we combine our quantitative and qualitative results, we see support for the idea that email drives a cycle of working at a faster pace.

The biggest disadvantage?

The biggest disadvantage expressed by the informants when they did not have email was that they felt “cut off.”


Our study has shown that there are benefits to not being continually connected by email. Without email, our informants focused longer on their tasks, multitasked less, and had lower stress. It is an open question to what extent the effects we found in our study might be sustainable. How the benefits of reduced email usage might outweigh the known benefits of email in reaching larger numbers of people rapidly with information is not clear.

If email stresses you out, try combining Getting Things Done with checking email only 2-3 times a day.

​​(H/T Bits)