Numerous employees feel that e-mails are a nuisance in their everyday work. One thing is clear: anyone who lets Outlook and Co. dictate the daily routine will always feel that they are unproductive and externally controlled. Advice on structured time management and special tools can help you to focus again.
While this topic has mostly been about productivity and distraction, US researchers have looked at the health effects of an email break. The results of the studies by scientists from the University of California and the US Army show that cutting off your email account not only makes you more focused and therefore more productive, it also significantly reduces personal stress.
The 13 study participants worked with heart rate monitors for five days without email, a software documented how often they alternated between different screen windows during this time. Email readers switched back and forth between screen windows twice as often as email pausers. The heart rate of the test subjects with e-mail reception was consistently high in a state of alert, that of those without e-mail varied more, which the study authors call a more natural state.
“If you cut employees off from receiving e-mail, their multitasking behavior is reduced and they feel less stressed,” says computer science professor and study author Gloria Mark, commenting on the results. The test subjects with e-mail reception switched an average of 37 times per hour between screen windows. The email-less did this only 18 times an hour. The subjects themselves felt better able to do their tasks without email access, because they were less exposed to stressful and time-consuming distractions.
Study author Gloria Mark reports that it would not have been easy to find participants for this study. However, during the email-free period, the test subjects would have enjoyed their daily work without emails, especially if the supervisor had given them their consent. “The test subjects were more satisfied to be in direct contact with other people again,” says Mark. But there was also a negative impact: The study participants reported that the email pause made them feel somewhat isolated. In the experiment, they were provided with important information by colleagues who missed their email pause.
The study authors see potential in their results – also for the productivity of employees. In their opinion, companies should consider limiting the login times for emails or sending new messages bundled at certain times. In this way, employees would not be constantly distracted from incoming emails.
Study authors from A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons – an Empirical Study of Work Without Email are Gloria Mark and Stephen Voida from the University of California and Armand Cardello from the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. The U.S. Army and the National Science Foundation funded the study on the impact of email breaks. The U.S. Army is investigating the use of smartphones and e-mail applications for soldiers in war zones, the University of California said in a statement on the study results.
- 1. Write your emails concisely and precisely.
Anything longer than two pages belongs in an attached file.
- 2. Check spelling and grammar.
There are corresponding functions in most e-mail systems. As this is known, corresponding negligence is resented. Suggestion of mistakes: The author has either not taken the time for me or he is a stranger.
- 3. Answer emails quickly.
Responsiveness is one of the key advantages of electronic mail. Above all, expected messages should be answered quickly. If you are not extremely busy, you should check your inbox several times a day. However, it is not necessary to activate the automatic notification (Auto Notify) for every incoming email – this distracts too much from the work.
- 4. Use the “Reply to everyone” function sparingly.
It is possible to send the message to a group from which perhaps only one percent of the participants are interested. The effect is comparable to a journey in a public transport, in which one is forced to listen to an unknown person’s cell phone conversation. If you answer everyone without necessity, you also generate a lot of electronic waste. Especially when attachments are sent, the unnecessary sending to large distributors leads to resource problems.
- 5. Make your email easy to read.
Experton recommends writing the email in a style that is similar to a written document (e.g. business letter). Greetings and signature (automatic signature) are a matter of course. In addition, short sentences and – for longer texts – paragraphs are recommended.
- 6. Comply with the legal provisions for email traffic.
A new case law has been in force in Germany since the beginning of 2007, according to which mandatory information on the company (legal form, registered office, register court, management) is required in the appendix. In addition, it can sometimes be useful to attach information about copyright, reproduction or other legal clauses. In addition, companies should formulate rules for e-mail traffic (e-mail policy) that must be disseminated regularly so that new employees are kept up to date.
- 7. Never reply to spam.
Actually a truism, and yet a mistake made again and again. Many spammers equip their messages with an opt-out function, in which the mail in the subject field can be unsubscribed with “unsubscribe”. For some spam programs that automatically send electronic garbage, such an answer means: the addressee is there, he can receive more spam.
- 8. Use blind copies to inform third parties.
So the distribution circle remains in the dark about who still received the message.
- 9. Formulate the subject meaningfully.
This is the only way the message stands out from the abundance of spam messages that fill most mailboxes today.
- 10. Keep it simple.
Today there are many ways to prettify emails (emoticons, pictures, etc.). Senders should be careful with this, as not every mail program can handle it and resources are also wasted. In addition, emoticons are sometimes infected with spyware. Therefore: do not download anything from unknown sources!
- 11. Use the features of modern email programs.
Callback: An email that was sent incorrectly or without an attachment will be called back. Use sparingly, check the messages again carefully before sending them. Emails are often opened quickly and cannot be called back.
Automatic answer: The out-of-office function is really useful and should be used! However, you should quickly deactivate them when you are back in the office.
Resend: Sometimes emails never reach the addressee, for example because the mail server fails. With the resend function, they can be sent a second time without any problems. Add a comment like “second try” in the subject line before sending.
Delivery confirmation: Nice to have, but not absolutely necessary. Doesn’t work with every email system.
Reading confirmation: Also nice to have.
12. Use emails to confirm conversations and discussions afterwards.
Electronic mail offers the opportunity to log call results from conferences or phone calls very quickly. In this way, the results can be secured for everyone involved, with regard to planned measures everyone is on the same page. What has been fixed in writing will be taken more seriously by those involved.
- 13. Do not rely on email for urgent information.
Better use the phone to do this. There is no guarantee that an email will be read. The message is often overlooked, reading is postponed or the message is deleted as supposed spam.
- 14. Do not use email for inappropriate communication.
Misusing email to spread spam is not only a nuisance, it can also be illegal. And: In most cases, the sender can be found quickly.