29 January 2015

Is checking your email just three times a day realistic?

Research suggests that limiting email checking to just three times a day can combat stress and “inbox burnout”. But is this really in keeping with the way people work in modern offices? And how could it affect productivity? We look at smarter ways to use email.

A study carried out by the University of British Columbia and published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior shows that limiting the number of times people check their email every day significantly reduces stress and tension.

Email is a huge part of most people’s lives, with employees receiving and sending an average of 121 emails each day. This is set to rise to at least 140 a day in 2018, according to a global study by technology market research company The Radicati Group.

Not surprisingly, managing all of these emails takes up a lot of time – more than a quarter (28%) of the working week, according research by the McKinsey Global Institute.

No one would deny that email is a hugely useful tool, but research clearly shows that it’s also a source of workplace stress. When researchers from the University of California monitored the heart rates of a group of employees, they found that their stress levels decreased and they focused more when they took “email vacations”.

Some employers recognise the productivity downside of email. Atos boss Thierry Breton has declared his intention to eventually get rid of internal email, estimating that only 10% of it is useful. Several German companies have agreed to stop sending emails to employees out of work hours. And Cisco’s director of collaboration has banned staff from using email to send messages to colleague groups.

How often should email be monitored?
Because email is such an important communication tool, it’s essential that it’s monitored. While some internal email may not be necessary – could you have a quick conversation instead? – external contacts will rely on email as a key form of communication. Not keeping it closely monitored could mean you miss something vital.

There’s no agreement among time management experts on the optimum number of times to check your email. But what is certain is that interruptions to tasks affect concentration, so it makes sense to assign specific times during the day to check your email rather than leaving alerts on constantly. You can let people know when you’ll check your email and give them alternative ways of getting in touch with you if it’s urgent.

There are also several other ways you can use email smarter:

Tips for efficient inbox management

  • Set up rules: you can do this to route emails into specific folders.
  • Use folders: separating and filing your email into folders will make it easier to navigate and search. And if you make these Action and Pending folders, you can turn your inbox into a daily action list.
  • Write descriptive subject lines: this will help you retrieve emails when you search for them.
  • Pick up on email threads in a timely manner: respond when necessary– most emails don’t demand an instant reply. 
  • Unsubscribe: you’ve probably signed up for emails you no longer need. Stop them cluttering up your inbox.

Atos' 'zero email initiative' succeeding
Stop checking your email, now
Too Many Interruptions at Work?
Emails Stress People Out, So Limit Yourself To Checking 3 Times A Day
Only check your email three times a day to avoid stress
Three tips to manage email stress

Sign up to our blog updates