Study: Disconnecting From Email Has Benefits

By: Jenna Savage

Whether you’re trying to write a paper or trying to make progress on the job, chances are that you have been distracted by email, social networking, text messaging, and other forms of electronic communication. Keeping up with emails from professors and tweets from friends may be important, but being so connected while you are trying to focus may do more harm than good. A recent study conducted by the University of California at Irving and U.S. Army researchers has found that being constantly connected to email keeps people in a “high alert” state that can cause stress and distraction, reports UCIrving Today.

Researchers attached heart rate monitors to office workers at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center. Using the heart rate monitors and computer sensors, they traced how often the workers switched screens and studied the physiological effects that doing so had on them. Some people had access to their email during this study, while others worked without email access.

UCIrving Today reports that individuals who were removed from email multitasked less and were more focused. Those who had access to their email switched screens twice as often as those who were without email, and experienced more constant heart rates. Individuals who did not have access to email had heart rates that were variable and more natural, the study shows. Hearts that are on “high alert” and that have a constant heart rate have higher levels of cortisol – a hormone correlated with stress – than hearts that are at-ease with variable rates. As being stressed can lead to health problems, high levels of cortisol are undesirable.

In addition to having a variable heart rate, those who were without email reported that they felt as though they were able to stay on task and finish their work in a more efficient manner. They were also less prone to stress and distraction. UCI informatics professor and study co-author Gloria Mark said that “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK.” She also explained that those participants were happier to interact face-to-face, rather than through email.

This study suggests that breaks from email can help boost productivity and lower stress. Students and employees alike can benefit from email vacations. Turning off email indicators, closing email tabs, and otherwise disconnecting oneself from email while studying, writing a paper, researching, or performing job duties can help reduce stress and distraction.

The only downside reported by participants who were without email was the feeling of isolation. However, the trade-off may be worth it – a little initial isolation to get the job done can be followed by a reward of “reconnecting” with the world. Just don’t overdo it.

Next time you need to focus, try taking an email break. You might find that the benefits make email vacations worthwhile.