Email is such an important part of our workflow and our reliance on our inboxes isn’t going away anytime soon. It has become very common to feel uneasy when a new incoming email notification is received by our inbox to give us the feeling of email anxiety. Another new email could mean an array of things ready to disrupt the present moment; a new priority, a shift in our focus, or even a complete rehaul of our planned objectives.
Can a flurry of activity in our inbox and a growing list of unread emails drive enough mental stress to create email anxiety? Absolutely! A team of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study of mental stress tied to office work related to computer and email use by equipping forty office workers to heart-rate monitors for a couple of weeks to measure their heart rate variability, a common measure for mental stress. Throughout the study, researchers found that in a given hour the more time spent on email resulted in a higher level of stress for that hour. Interestingly, the strategy of batching inbox checks, a technique such as an inbox zero email strategy, did nothing to reduce email anxiety and mental stress.
Not only did the researchers find that email was driving mental stress, but they also learned that during periods of heightened stress levels, the office workers were also more likely to reply to emails quickly. These anxious email replies had an increased likelihood to contain words that expressed anger as well.
Unfortunately, this is all too relatable for the average professional. Email anxiety is a real stress on our day-to-day lives and our obsession with our inbox and reliance on it for our workflow is difficult to overcome. Thankfully, we’re going to shed light on some of the larger movements tied to digital stress as well as outline a few tips and tricks to reduce email anxiety so that we can reduce our mental stress, repair our relationship with our email, and be more productive in our inbox.
Digital Stress is Influencing Our World
Email anxiety is a major contributor to a larger issue, a sweeping movement of 24/7 connectivity and the blurring of the lines that divide our personal and professional lives causing an increase in digital-related mental stress. Indeed’s latest survey of 1,500 U.S. workers found that 52% of respondents are feeling burned out as remote work during the COVID-19 global pandemic has added emphasis to being always-on. Continuous email use is on the rise as nearly 40% of workers were reportedly checking their email after-hours to ensure they are on top of the barrage of CCed messages from every colleague, boss, and team member they’ve ever had.
Thankfully, global policy is evolving and the world is taking notice of the impact of our 24/7 jobs and always-on email communication. The Right to Disconnect is a growing movement of legislation that aims to limit, and even put an end to, employers’ ability to require employees to be available after-hours.
In 2016, the Government of France passed the El Khomri Law to reform working conditions which included the right to disconnect from work with employers developing mechanisms to regulate employees’ use of email and other communication tools to ensure respect for personal time.
Ireland recently passed legislation on April 1, 2021, that ensures employees cannot be penalized or punished if they refuse to respond to working matters outside of normal work hours. Employees are now entitled to disconnect from email and other communication channels once the workday ends.
How to Overcome Email Anxiety
Thankfully, we can improve our mental stress when it comes to our inboxes. Following popular and proven techniques, adjusting our email behavior, and taking advantage of tools can help reduce our mental stress and anxiety when it comes to our inbox.
Setting Boundaries with Our Inbox
It’s time to change the way we approach our inbox while straddling our integrated work and personal lives. Whether we continue to work remotely or return to the office, establishing boundaries is critical to managing our inboxes to stay focused and reduce the built-up anxiety around our email.
3 Ways to Set Boundaries with Your Inbox
Limit How Often You Check Your Inbox
Check your email less often. The average working professional checks their email more than 15 times per day, wasting hours of productivity reading and even re-reading emails that do not need an immediate response. Limiting how often we check our inbox is in line with the original idea of inbox zero, one of the most popular techniques for managing our overflowing inboxes. While the original strategy consisted of reducing the amount of focus spent on our inbox by limiting how often we check our email, the average person views Inbox Zero as the unrealistic and time-consuming ritual of maintaining your unread emails at zero, meaning constant email review and focus interruption.
Set a Time Limit in your Inbox
We have already written about the benefits of limiting how much time we spend on a given task to maximize productivity. How we approach our email should be no different from any other task or project in our day. Our email is full of endless information and data that could easily consume our entire day if we allowed it. When we check our inbox we should limit how much time we allow ourselves to review and triage our emails. 30 to 60 minutes of interrupted email time two to three times per day can not only keep us productive but allow us to remove the ongoing stresses that build up from our email.
Turn Off Email Notifications
Our lives are constantly interrupted by never-ending notifications from social media, Slack, email, and more. Limiting, or even removing, notifications on our phones and desktops can keep us productive. If you are dedicated to checking your email a few times per day for uninterrupted focus, cutting out notifications shouldn’t be an issue. Email notifications draw our attention away from what we’re currently doing and build up unnecessary anxious thoughts about what the email is about, how important it is, and how you will craft a response before even reading its contents.
Tools That Help with Email Anxiety
Changing our behaviors can do a lot in aiding the stress that comes from our inbox. Thankfully, there are many tools, platforms, and plugins to help us reduce our email anxiety. When we combine changes in how we operate with cutting-edge technology we can eliminate the dread we experience from our inbox and rid ourselves of email anxiety.
3 Stress-Free Email Tools
Gmail Filters & Outlook Rules
Prioritizing how you receive emails to your inbox can help remove a lot of the noise so you can stay focused. So, if you receive a lot of emails from the same senders and contacts then setting up manual Outlook rules and Gmail Filters can be a great way to automatically filter a lot of your incoming email. Need to ensure all emails from your team, colleague, or even boss are prioritized? Then check out our guides on how to create Gmail Filters and Outlook Labels to optimize your inbox.
Ever receive an email and marked it as unread so you can review it later, but forgotten about it? We’ve all been there and unfortunately, marking an email as unread as an impromptu task management system, doesn’t help in keeping us productive or reduce our email stress. Thankfully, Gmail users can take advantage of Gmail’s Snooze button to temporarily set aside an email to resurface at the top of your inbox when you want. With Gmail’s Snooze button, you’ll have more control over how you prioritize your inbox when you’re focused. If you are wrapping up a timebox session reviewing emails and receive something new at the last minute, snooze it and revisit it at your next email check-in. No need to worry about forgetting it!
InMoat’s Automated Smart Filters that focus on your priorities
InMoat keeps your inbox organized and productive by removing unimportant emails from distracting you when you’re focused. With InMoat, you can gain control over your inbox by selecting the types of emails that are important to you. Whether you’re looking for calendar invites, shipping notifications, or team collaboration updates, InMoat’s Smart Filters ensure that your priorities will always be at the top of your inbox. Everything else, such as email newsletters, store promotions, and other unimportant, and non-urgent, emails will go to a new @InMoat folder to be reviewed when it’s convenient for you.
InMoat’s automated and seamless integration into your current Gmail or Outlook email account makes it easy to maintain a focused inbox. You don’t have to stress about unnecessary email distractions or notifications because InMoat will automatically filter them as they are received.
Taking a Step Back
With working from home becoming the new normal - our inboxes aren't shrinking anytime soon. They are an important part of our workflow and lives. How we manage them is critical to our productivity, focus, and even mental health. While there may not be a perfect solution to receiving the right information at our right time, we can take steps towards improving our relationship and maintaining a more organized inbox. With updates in how we operate our email, societal movements that are aimed to improve our work-life balance, and tools such as InMoat to prioritize our email, we can do wonders to reduce our stress and eliminate email anxiety.