Some tips for making sure e-mail’s power is used for good and not for evil.
As I was absentmindedly scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, a headline from a New Yorker article caught my eye, “E-mail Is Making Us Miserable.” My finger kept the feed moving even as my brain was doing a double take. I went back quickly and clicked on the link in the bio for confirmation on something I’ve known to be true for quite some time.
As one could say about nuclear power, genetic engineering and reality television, there are pros and cons to any major scientific and social development. E-mail is no exception. A tool that has made global communication instantaneous and seamless, enhancing productivity and driving economic success, has also become a source of anxiety and unhappiness for millions of professionals who are both addicted to the speed and convenience of e-mailing and overwhelmed by their overflowing inboxes and the relentlessness of e-mail threads that go on forever.
Researchers have made the correlation between checking e-mail and increased stress levels. And, anyone who has had a good night’s sleep ruined by opening their browser before bed, or felt their blood pressure spike when a particular message pops up, heralding hours of extra work or announcing a costly mistake, will agree that e-mail is a major stressor.
And yet, in today’s world, we can’t function without it. So, here are some tips for making sure e-mail’s power is used for good and not for evil—at least where your health and well-being are concerned.
The 5 tips:
- Put the laptop (or phone, or tablet) down. Once you’ve finished your work for the day, try to stay off your e-mail. Sure, there are people who will still try to reach you during dinner time or at 3 AM, but if you create a consistent practice of shutting down communication at the end of the day, you will actually train people to respect your off hours.
- Similarly, when you’re in the middle of a project or meeting or any activity where you can’t respond to an e-mail effectively, you should avoid checking. Seeing a message that requires a response when you can’t, in that moment, respond will just make your eye twitch worse.
- Work on making e-mail communications pleasant, succinct, and straightforward. If there is something that will require 27 e-mails in a thread to discuss, maybe a face-to-face (in person or over Zoom) meeting or a phone call is the way to go. Once e-mail threads become unwieldy in their length, it’s easy to miss important information buried somewhere in the middle.
- Which begs the question: Does it even have to be an e-mail? There is a lot of extraneous content in many of our daily communications. The kind of chit chat that used to happen around the water cooler is now happening on e-mail. Unfortunately, the result is not a socially pleasant interlude in the middle of a busy day but a feeling of overwhelm when there are 200 e-mails in your inbox that need to be answered even if a number of them are not technically work related.
- Finally, slow down! Not everything needs to be answered instantaneously. Create a folder in your browser for e-mails that require (and can wait for) a more thoughtful response.
E-mail communication is here to stay. So are unhealthy stress levels unless we can find ways to lower them. Taking a look at our e-mail practices and making some changes could have long term benefits for our mental health.