Christ / Culture / August 13, 2007

Are You Suffering from Email Stress?

Do you check your gmail account multiple times an hour? Do you drop anything you are doing the moment you here the ‘ding’ indicating a new message in your Outlook inbox? And, is this wearing you out? Well, if you answered yes, then you are not alone.

A research report conducted in the UK discloses that more and more people are suffering on the job from ‘Email stress‘. According to the article:

According to new research increasing numbers of workers say they are swamped with a never-ending tide of messages.

Trying to keep up with a stream of incoming mail interrupts normal work and leaves staff tired, frustrated and unproductive, it concluded.

Employees also feel under pressure to check and respond quickly to emails, with some checking their inbox up to 40 times an hour.

Checking email 40 times an hour? That’s quite hard to believe, but it’s certainly possible. What the research doesn’t account for is the recent surge in pda’s and other wireless devices that allow you to check your email anywhere, anytime. It used to be that a worker could leave their emails behind until they left the office. Now, many people I know refer to their blackberries as ‘crackberries’ or as an ‘electronic leash’ because they are bound to anything that’s urgent, regardless of the time or the place.

Another growing phenomenon the research does not address is the stress associated with following your RSS feeds on your preferred RSS feed reader. Whether you have 18 feeds or 118 feeds to sift through every day, the amount of data can sometimes be overwhelming. There is nothing like coming home from being away from your computer for 3 days to find that you have several thousand unread feed posts.

These trends concern me. Not because they are resulting in reduced worker productivity. Not because it is an added source of stress in the daily work environment. These trends concern me because every piece of new info that we consume commoditizes the rest to the point that the truly important things can easily become lost in the sea of information overload. More importantly, if we are not careful, then these things can also develop into a major distraction to our pursuit of Christ.

How do I deal with information overload?

  • I regularly review my RSS feeds and remove those that are not meeting my expectations or needs.
  • I regularly receive encouragement (and at times constructive criticism) from my wife on the importance of balancing this part of my life
  • I intentionally schedule some of my day with things that prevent me from having the ability to access this info
  • I specifically prioritize my devotional life to ensure that it doesn’t become compromised

‘Email stress’ is a manifestation of the larger danger of information overload. It is a danger that is here to stay, regardless of how it is manifested. Well, gotta go. I would keep writing, but I have to check my inbox.

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