New research suggests that companies should send out emails in batches to curb employees' tendency to self-interrupt and push them to focus on their work.
PROBLEM: For no apparent reason, many people at work suddenly stop doing their most pressing tasks to check their email. In fact, informatics expert Gloria Mark says these instances of self-interruption occur almost as often as interruptions caused by external sources, such as the phone ringing or a co-worker coming to chat. Is email making us more anxious at work?
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METHODOLOGY: University of California, Irvine, and U.S. Army researchers led by Mark banned computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center from their email for five workdays. Even before this restriction, however, they had already attached heart rate monitors to the subjects, who worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men, and installed software sensors on their computers to detect how often they switched windows. They also interviewed the participants after the trial.
RESULTS: When the subjects were allowed to read their email, they changed screens twice as often and exhibited more constant heart rates that indicate a more stressed "high alert" state. On the days they were prohibited to correspond electronically, they experienced more natural, variable heart rates and reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay focused on their tasks. The only downside was that they also reported feeling somewhat isolated.