When to check your e-mail?

e-mail behavior

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E-mail is an inexpensive, efficient and fast way of communication. It can enhance communication between departments and communication across continents. Nevertheless a lot of posts and especially blogs write about email overload: Lifehacker.com, Email Overloaded, Harvard Business School.

They advice you to check your email at certain time points in the day, usually twice a day somewhere around 11 a.m and 4 pm. The scientific background for this solution to these loathsome distractions is based on Reducing the Effect of Email Interruptions on Employees. In this research 15 people of the Danwood company in the UK were monitored over 28 working days by software on their computer: WinVNC. This allows viewing of a remote computer desktop environment, the users could not tell whether they would be watched. The server side had a video recorder attached to record the activities of the employee.

It took the employees an average of 1 minute 44 seconds to react to a new email notification by opening up the email application. The majority of emails, 70%, were reacted to within 6 seconds of them arriving and 85% were reacted to within 2 minutes of arriving. The time it takes the employees to recover from an email interrupt, and to return to their work at the same work rate at which they left it, was found to be on average 64 seconds.

Email is just one of many interruptions during work, others being telephone calls, buzzers and personal visits. The advantage of email above these other interruptions is that you don’t have to act immediately. Phone calls and personal visits and buzzers are far more interruptive. To my opinion there’s a shift towards more use of email instead of phone calls and personal visits although these two might be more appropriate in certain circumstances than email.

In a post about more recent research into email a blessing or a burden, frequent e-mail checking didn’t interrupt the work routine. Workers checked e-mail frequently and these interruptions were positive because they increased the collection of important information for getting the job done. The theory that frequent e-mail checking interrupted working and is detrimental to work performance could not be supported in this study.

Moreover, those using e-breaks to check their email more often used their time on work for personal email and procrastination.

Taking breaks throughout the workday is not necessarily a negative thing, but taking a break on the computer does not necessarily provide the physical and mental relief that another form of break might provide. Therefore, these employees might con- ceivably be taking other breaks in addition to their e-breaks. In addition, e-mail breaks provide the op- portunity for increased personal mail usage, when employees may engage in inappropriate use.

To my opinion it’s not a matter of when you’re checking the email, it’s more about integrating the email in your work. It’s more about email etiquette. Check these rules, you probably have violated one resulting in email overload. Another important issue is how to deal with your email. Again a lot of excellent advice online is available. To me it comes down to getting to grips with your email, incorporate it in your work. You’re the one to decide when to check your email or not. What do you think?

Jackson, T. (2003). Reducing the effect of email interruptions on employees International Journal of Information Management, 23 (1), 55-65 DOI: 10.1016/S0268-4012(02)00068-3

Mano, R., & Mesch, G. (2009). E-mail characteristics, work performance and distress Computers in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2009.08.005

Baker, J., & Phillips, J. (2007). E-mail, Decisional Styles, and Rest Breaks CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10 (5), 705-708 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2007.9966