After reading a New York Times commentary equating email to zombies "that never stop coming", researcher Gloria Marks of the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine decided to study the effects of an email-free week. Her study, out this week, gives us all permission to turn off the zombie electrons that plague the inbox.
Those who were ordered to turn off email for a week had healthier heart rate patterns than those who were not.
Previous studies have consistently shown people check email about 36 times an hour. Marks points out that email recipients generally need to meet the task demands of the sender; in one study 45% of people associated email with a loss of control, a crucial benchmark of unhealthy stress.
The team outfitted civilian scientists at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center with heart monitors that record a specific measure of stress called heart rate variability. They found those who had been ordered to turn off email for a week (wouldn't that be heavenly!) had much healthier heart rate patterns than those who had not.
Great study, although, the researchers' take-away is that organizations should deliver email in batches. But that smacks of loss of control. Besides, the email-blackout left participants feeling isolated.
Our suggestion: turn off the inbox for stretches at a time during the day, protect your heart and your deadlines.