Thursday, March 20, 2008

Email stress

tow path
Usually I take a positive stance on new communications technology. I think of new channels of communication as being inherently neutral in character, offering different opportunities and choices to users. Reflecting on email, particularly in the way that it is so intensively used in academic and institutional settings, I’ve come to wonder why it contributes to so much work-related stress. Now, of course, it’s not email itself – it’s the way we use email, and the working practices that it supports. I’ve talked to a number of colleagues about this, and watched how they sigh when referring to their inbox, and I’ve watched how people will flick across to their email when working on something else, just to delete irrelevant messages in a desperate bid to keep on top of things. And then there are those of us who obsessively check our mail – before going to bed, on waking up and so on. Here’s a wonderful piece on email apnea that reflects the phenomenon of email stress and even meanders into medical territory. The theme is not new. This article in the Guardian summarized some recent research. I’ve been unable to track down any more from Karen Renaud, but this is a useful introduction. As we approach a bank holiday and the possibility of a few days leave, how many of us will worry about the state of our mailbox on our return? Well, I’m not going to worry about it until I do! In the mean time here are my mail management strategies: try to keep the inbox as empty as possible; delete the obvious junk and reply-to-alls; read it, respond or delete; if it calls for a detailed response, send a holding message; limit the number of times you check your mail each day….And if you’re reading this and wondering what happened to your reply – well, they’re just strategies. Sometimes I forget to use them!


DrJoolz said...

I find the email thing really stressful - part of the problem `i think, is that people often send emails out as a way of removing what they have in THEIR inbox. Passing on the monkey, so to speak.
I am going to ask if we can have a discussion about it all at my place of work; I want to see if we can work out some kind of nettiquette thing relating to the sending of emails. I.e. send less.(or is it fewer?)

Guy Merchant said...

Funny, I tried to initiate some discussion about this at our place - it never got anywhere - I guess it's another of those things you can't control.
But isn't one of the things the 'urgency' factor? We often traet email as if its synchronous. Don't know if you read Stephen Heppel in the Guardian the other week, but he talked about 'in between time' - not 'now' but 'nearly now' - texting is clearly like that, and often email nearly is.
Anyway, must get on with my emails. Blog comments are just a bit of task avoidance!