If you have multiple email addresses, obsessively check your messages at all hours, and feel guilty if you unplug, you may be a workaholic. You’re also putting yourself at increased risk for elevated stress levels. There is a way to get off this vicious treadmill by incorporating healthier behaviors.
A 2016 report by the Radicati Group found there are 2.5 billion email users worldwide, and adults spend an average of over an hour each day on emails. In 2012, there were 144.8 billion worldwide emails daily, and that’s expected to ratchet up to 192.2 billion daily emails in 2016. The bulk of email is corporate, with 89 billion daily emails in 2012, increasing to 143.8 billion per day in 2016. Instant messaging (IM), social networking and mobile email are other drivers of excessive email use.
This research suggests that it’s not just the volume of emails that causes stress, it’s also the well-intentioned habits people have and their need to feel in control that often backfires.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Nottingham Trent University professor of behavioral addiction, international gaming research unit, shares his views on what can be done to curb excessive email use.
- Turn off automatic email notification.
You can’t be inundated all day long if you take the simple precaution of turning off automatic email notification. Why be distracted by the constant beep, ring-tone, pop-up window, etc. of incoming emails when you can check your messages at a time you prefer to view them and take action on them?
“Emails are a double-edge sword in that they are clearly a useful communication tool but can be a source of stress,” Dr. Griffiths confirms.
- Set limits for retrieving messages.
You should be the one in control of when you access your email messages, according to Griffith. If you limit their retrieval to only a few times each day, such as first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, and possibly just before you leave work, you’ll be much less stressed. “You’ll spend less time both reading and responding to each email than if you had read them when they individually came in.”
- Deactivate instant messaging.
While it sounds good in theory, in practice, having instant messaging always on is an unnecessary stress producer. Turn off IM and immediately benefit. “There is a tendency to look at emails straight away if the instant messaging system is turned on,” says Griffiths, who adds that the only time this is helpful is if you are expecting a message.
- Cut down on spam with a good filter.
How many hundreds of emails clog your inbox that are junk mail? Why spend the time going through each of these items when you can invest in a good spam filter to do the sorting for you. As Griffiths wisely notes, “There is nothing worse than an inbox full of junk mail…”
- Get familiar with “auto delete.”
If you take the time to look into the “auto delete” button function, you can save yourself more time poring through the junk mail you receive. “Use the auto delete button to avoid them appearing in your inbox” in the first place, Griffiths recommends.
- Make email folders your friends.
Another worthwhile way to cut down on excessive email use is to create folders to file email messages you’ll want to keep for later. This is a form of desktop management that will simplify your day and eliminate needless stress. “The setting up of a good email filing system is paramount in keeping on top of your emails,” says Griffiths.
- Answer and delete or file — period.
Instead of keeping email messages you’ve read in your inbox, adopt the practice of answering the email and either deleting or filing it. Use the separate email folder you’ve created for such messages or create a new one if you think this message is something you’ll want to hold onto, recommends Griffiths.
- Use “out of office” auto-reply feature.
When you’re going to be away from the office or otherwise unavailable, let people know by turning on the “out of office” automatic notification. “This will help reduce the repeated emails from the same people asking” if you’ve received their earlier email. In addition, says Griffiths, once people know you’re not available for a certain period of time, they may not send the email in the first place.
- If it’s really important, print it out.
Some emails are important enough that you want a hard record of them. To avoid these documents getting misplaced among too many emails or lost forever in the event your computer crashes, print out the email. Then, file it in the appropriate hard folder, says Griffiths.
- Use good judgment in who you respond to.
Some email messages don’t warrant a reply. By the same token, don’t hit reply to everyone in the group if you don’t want endless replies flooding your inbox. “This will cut down on the number of potential replies,” says Griffiths.
There are a few more points worth mentioning regarding emails. They have no non-verbal cues, are often too spontaneous, don’t have an option to self-correct in the moment, have no norms (set of email standards), and are very distracting. It’s also important to remember that once you send an email, it’s a permanent record existing somewhere in cyberspace. You may wish to reconsider what you send via email if there’s any likelihood it could come back to bite you.
The good news about email is that the medium makes it much easier to collaborate and share information. Geography doesn’t matter, nor do time zones. Groups can meet without having to be physically present in the same location, allowing for greater productivity. And email is almost instantaneous, so your messages are delivered with an audit trail and faster than any other form of interaction.
Bottom line: If you use good judgment and implement some proactive behaviors, you’ll not only combat excessive email use, you’ll also considerably reduce your levels of stress.
At the computer photo available from Shutterstock