How often do you check your email? Whether it’s business-related or personal, we all feel obligated to check our email inboxes frequently enough to respond in a timely manner. On the other hand, our inbox can easily become saturated with an overflow of emails, silently pressuring our minds through the increasing “unread” numeric digits.
How do emails impact our well-being and how can we create a healthy relationship with them?
What is Email Fatigue?
Worldwide, roughly 306.4 billion emails are sent and received each day in 2020, and email traffic is projected to increase each year. According to research by Edison Software, 74% of Americans feel overwhelmed by the emails they receive. In terms of email volume, 33% feel stressed when they receive too many emails.
Email Fatigue is a term often used in email marketing and it describes a state where we feel overwhelmed with handling emails. Most of us may have tried to combat email fatigue by closely managing inboxes or spending hours deleting unwanted messages.
The Effects of Email Engagement
A 2014 study published by the University of British Columbia took 124 adults and tested whether the frequency of email-checking mattered. For one week, participants were asked to limit their email-checking to three times a day, and for the following week, they were allowed to check their emails for an unlimited number of times. When email usage was limited, participants felt less stress, tension, and were less distracted by incoming emails. With lowered stress, their overall well-being also increased, which resulted in positive outcomes such as higher mindfulness, increased self-perceived productivity, and better sleep quality.
According to a 2017 Jobvite survey, on average, 45% of Americans tend to check their email after work hours every day, many at the request of their employers. Many of us feel pressured to check our emails frequently for one reason or another. Another study found that monitoring work emails during non-work hours is detrimental to the health and well-being of not only employees but their spouse and family members as well. Even when a person didn’t actually work, the expectation of availability over emails during non-work hours increased stress, which then leads to strain and conflict within family relationships.
University of California, Irvine concluded that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for a person to regain focus after a distraction. Constantly tending to emails throughout the day requires multi-tasking and scatters our focus. If we are always checking our emails, we’re not only decreasing focus time, we’re spending additional time trying to regain that focus.
How to Deal With Email Fatigue
Allocate a Daily Email Allowance
Each person is different in the way they need to prioritize the amount spent on emails.
One way to limit email engagement is by setting the times we allow ourselves to check emails throughout the day. For example, set yourself to only check and respond to emails 3 times per day; morning, afternoon, and evening. Setting specific times like; 9:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 5:00 pm, can be helpful too.
Another way to set boundaries is by assessing how much time we really need each day for email and communication. How much time do you spend checking notifications while you’re at work, on the bus, or waiting in line? A lot of these small moments of checking can be gathered into a few time frames so that we can stay more present in what we’re doing. Once you’re done with a self-assessment, set a few brief checks (5-10 minutes max) per day where you can reply to urgent emails, but also allocate a specific amount of time in your day where you can really concentrate and deal with emails.
Try to keep the email tab closed and notifications on phones turned off otherwise!
Better Email Management
Managing emails can feel mentally overwhelming if there’s a lot to go through. Sometimes, it’s not about the time spent on emails, but a matter of how we manage our workflow dealing with emails. Try to use email managing tools, or set up a filtering system for your inbox in a way where you won’t feel overwhelmed when you check-in.
An easy way to feel less clutter is by unsubscribing. Spend some time going through newsletters subscriptions and social media email notification settings. Our engagement and attention are exactly what many businesses want, and they’re becoming smarter in ways to reach us. Cutting some of the unwanted solicitations will bring more peace to our inbox.
Take an Email Sabbatical
We all need time off to disconnect and reset once in a while. If constant emails are clearly affecting your well-being, an email sabbatical can be a great solution. Some people do this when they go on vacation. Communicate with your boss, co-workers, and collaborators in advance and finish all necessary important email communications before a sabbatical. There are ways to set emails to filter and forward to certain addresses or give automated responses so that people know when they’ll get a response. This may require some planning and understanding, but an email sabbatical can be a great way to rejuvenate!
Electronic communication has become so integrated into our lives, but the constant reach can tire us out. If you felt like limiting emails could help your mental well-being, this article on social media detox may be helpful too!
Image: UnsplashBecker, W. J., Belkin, L., & Tuskey, S. (2018). Killing me softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2018(1), 12574. https://doi.org/10.5465/ambpp.2018.121
Business Wire. (2017, August 30). Edison Unveils 2017 State of Email Report on 35th Anniversary of Email. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170830005343/en/Edison-Unveils-2017-State-of-Email-Report-on-35th-Anniversary-of-Email
Jobvite. (2017). 2017 Job Seeker Nation Study. https://www.jobvite.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2017_Job_Seeker_Nation_Survey.pdf
Kushlev, K., & Dunn, E. W. (2015). Checking email less frequently reduces stress. Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 220–228. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.11.005
Limit the Time You Spend on Email. (2014, November 2). Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/02/limit-the-time-you-spend-on-email
Mark, G., Gudith, D., & Klocke, U. (2008). The cost of interrupted work. Proceeding of the Twenty-Sixth Annual CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI ’08, 107–110. https://doi.org/10.1145/1357054.1357072
Statista. (2020, October 2). Number of e-mails per day worldwide 2017-2024. https://www.statista.com/statistics/456500/daily-number-of-e-mails-worldwide/
Stop Email Overload. (2015, August 12). Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2012/02/stop-email-overload-1