Taking control of e-mail anxiety

by Carlo Carino in

E-mail stress is real. I’ve lived through the anxiety of it and found that changing the way I think about e-mail has made me not only happier, but way more productive.

A 2007 study by the universities of Glasgow and Paisley found that one out of three workers felt extremely stressed out about the volume of e-mail they receive during the day and about the seeming pressure to respond to everything immediately. Some of the subjects felt compelled to check their e-mail as much as 40 times in an hour.

If you feel like this or think the pressure to check your messages is inter with your ability to enjoy your job or even your free time, then you might want to take a look at your own habits to see what you can do to relieve the stress.

You don’t have to live like that.

E-mail has evolved into something hideous in the last decade. It was once something harmless that we used to send light messages to a select few. Imagine this — there was a time when people used to smile every time they got a message.

 Today, as the primary way people communicate within companies and organizations, e-mail is both a blessing and a curse. Some of us have found healthy ways to deal with the demands e-mail presents. However, some of us have begun to view our e-mail like a deadly snake that will strike if we look away for even a second.

Reclaim your attention

Think about it only when you want to. Does your phone chime every time you get a new e-mail? Does your e-mail program display a new window and make a sound when a new message arrives? If so, turn these features off. 

Try not to respond to work e-mail on your personal time. There are always exceptions, but never let diligence and dedication morph into a constant state of e-mail paranoia.

For the most part, work e-mail should only be checked when you’re working. Don’t let e-mail become a leash that keeps you tethered to your office 24 hours a day. Every workplace has one employee who doesn’t have a life outside the office. Don’t let that person be you.

Give it time. This isn't new advice, but it has to be said. Most e-mail applications are set to automatically retrieve messages every five minutes — that’s 288 times a day. If you can, set your computer’s e-mail retrieval to manual, or at minimum to check automatically just once per hour. You’ll be surprised at how much you get done when you’re not being interrupted every five minutes.

Limitations are good. Set limits at how often you look at your mail. Try not to do it more than four times a day. I find that 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are great times to check your mail during the workday.

The golden rule

Think before you send e-mail as well. If you don’t like the stress of e-mail demands, then don’t pass it on to others. If you feel it’s rude to call your coworkers about office business after hours, then why would you send them e-mail at those times?  If there’s anything you hate about the e-mail you get, then stop doing it yourself. E-mail unto others as you would have them e-mail unto you.