Email isn't just a waste of time - it can stress you out

Participants in a UBC study reported being less stressed when they checked email only three times a day 

A study from UBC found that people who checked email less often were less stressed. Photo: Shutterstock

If you email Lisa von Sturmer, you’ll receive a polite auto-reply stating that von Sturmer only checks email twice a day and will respond to your message soon.

The CEO of Growing City, a Vancouver recycling company, has used the technique for four years.

“I read a book called The 4-Hour Workweek, and one of the things the author talks about is how emails are a waste of time, and that’s something I have definitely experienced,” she said.

“Particularly in my previous career, when I working in television, I would be on these email strings forever.”

According to a new study from the University of British Columbia, email is not only a time waster — it can also stress you out. Researchers asked participants in the study to check their email as often as they would normally for one week. The following week, they were asked to only check their email three times a day.

The researchers found that study participants had less stress when they limited the time they spent checking email.

“I have to deal with quite a lot of email myself, and before I started the study I often found … that after being on the computer the entire day and constantly replying to emails, I’m not actually getting my work done,” said Kostadin Kushlev, a PhD candidate in psychology who is the lead author of the study.

“This study showed for the first time that reducing the number of times people check their email can actually have measurable and statistically significant effects on how stressed people feel throughout the day.”

Based on the results, Kushlev suggests that companies may want to encourage workers to check email at specific times throughout the day. Limiting email use could improve employees’ health and prevent burnout, Kushlev said.

Many of the study participants found it difficult to stop constantly checking their email. That’s something von Sturmer experienced as well, but she has some advice for those who want to cut the email leash.

“It’s just a matter of realizing that if something is an emergency, people will call you,” she said.