Quitting email is good..
Quitting email is good for your heart and makes you more productive, say researchers (but it’s as difficult as giving up drugs)
Study followed 13 volunteers who gave up email for five days
Heart stress-rates dropped, while productivity soared as users spent less time ‘window switching” and ‘People became less stressed after being away from email’
Many of us struggle to go more than a few minutes without checking our email inboxes.
But new research suggests ignoring messages altogether can reduce stress by having a positive effect on the heart.
Scientists who attached heart rate monitors to office workers found they remained in a state of ‘high alert’ throughout the day if they had constant access to email.
Now University of California informatics professor Gloria Mark has given her verdict on email after running an experiment in which 13 volunteers ignored their ‘you’ve got mail’ chimes for five days.
Always connected: Scientists who attached heart rate monitors to office workers found they remained in a state of ‘high alert’
Speaking to The Times about her experiment, she said: ‘I had this crazy idea that people were addicted to email.
‘So I started thinking, the way you can test that is if you take people away from email cold turkey. You should see symptoms of withdrawal, the same way people are addicted to alcohol or drugs.’
According to some estimates, more than 200 billion e-mails are sent across the internet every day.
But while they may have improved communication speeds, there have been concerns that electronic messaging is detrimental to both physical and mental health.
To assess the effects, scientists recruited 13 men and women who used computers in the workplace, ranging from chemical engineers to psychologists.
At the same time, software was added to their computers to measure how often they switched from what they were working on to their email inbox.
A constantly raised heart beat is known to lead to higher levels of a potentially damaging stress hormone, called cortisol.
The study also found limiting email access might boost workers’ concentration levels.
‘We had 13 volunteers who were civilian employees at the [U.S. Army’s] Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston.
‘First we did a baseline measure – we had them work as usual for several days. Then we cut off email for five days, continuing to take our measurements.
‘We couldn’t see a discernible trend on days 1 and 2. But at day 5, the pattern started to become clear: People became less stressed after being away from email.
The rise of the smartphones makes us even more inclined to always be connected
‘We used monitors that measured the heart rate and also the intervals between heartbeats to obtain a common measure for stress called heart rate variability.
‘It’s counterintuitive. When heart rate variability is low – that means the heart is beating at a steady pace – people are actually under more stress.
It’s the fight-or-flight syndrome: You’re on high alert, your body is prepared to respond. And as a result, your variability goes down a whole lot.
‘When you’re relaxed, your heart rate variability is all over the place. A stimulus will make your heart rate jump up and then it will go back down to resting state.
‘We had sensors everywhere. We had sensors in the backs of people’s chairs, so we could see if they leaned back to relax or leaned forward to be alert. We had sensors in the doorways to see people coming in and out, and on the desktop to look at when they shuffled papers or used the telephone.
Another interesting thing is what people did to communicate without email. Nearly all participants reported getting up out of their office and walking around a lot more. They interacted with people face to face, and they reported it as a benefit. They enjoyed it. That sounds like it’s healthier too.
People reported that they were more productive. They said they were able to focus on tasks longer. That was borne out by the data.
‘On average, people with email switched windows about 37 times per hour. Without email, that was cut in half to 18 times per hour.
‘With email, they spent an average of 394 seconds on any particular window. That went up to 568 seconds without email. This may not seem a lot, but in the world of multitasking it’s a huge difference.
People said they felt liberated, and the euphoria lasted for a few days. They really tried very hard to make a change. But then everybody reverted back to their old ways.
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