Kostadin Kushlev '08

Kostadin Kushlev '08

Email Got You Down? Here's How to Fight Back

By Kostadin Kushlev '08 | March 1, 2016

Worldwide, more than 183 billion emails are sent and received… every single day. Indeed, most of us have little control over the barrage of emails hurled at us from every direction—whether from colleagues in the adjacent cubicle or from clients across the world.

But even if we can’t control how many emails we get, we can manage our inboxes better in order to feel less stressed out by the the tidal wave of electronic correspondence. Here are some tricks to fight back.

Convert email back to snail mail.

We use email for a reason—it’s useful. Constantly checking email, however, can make us feel scattered and stressed.

Fortunately, email isn’t a game of volleyball. Most of us don’t truly need to pass the ball along right away by responding to emails as soon as we receive them. So just like in the days of yore, when we checked our snail mail once a day, try managing your email by checking it once a day.

Too extreme? Then consider that even if you scale back to checking 3 to 5 times a day, rather than 3 to 5 times an hour, you may feel less stressed. Indeed, in my latest research, participants felt significantly less stressed when they were asked to check their email 3 times a day than when they were asked to check constantly. How much less stressed? People who scaled back on email reported about the same reduction in stress as people who undergo work training in relaxation techniques, such as breathing deeply and visualizing peaceful images.

Be the decider!

Paraphrasing George Bush may not be the smartest way to give advice to Reedies, but you get the idea. I’ve tried to follow my own advice to check email 3 times a day. And, (no surprise), it’s hard. We feel drawn to peek inside our inboxes—too often.

According to a recent survey, about one-third of U.S. workers reply within 15 minutes of receiving a work email, and three-fourths reply within an hour. But there is hope!

One way to become the decider is to make it more difficult to get inadvertently sucked through the email wormhole (when all you meant to do is check the time). Consider deleting the email app from your phone. Impractical? What if you hide it on the sixth screen of your phone back with all those apps you never use? And try switching off those bings that announce the ominous arrival of yet another message, thus annoying yourself and those around you less. My research suggests that such tricks can help you get unhooked and reduce stress.

Go back to Reed.

If all else fails, quit your job and go back to Reed. You’ll reduce your exposure to email by working in the library while the rest of the world sleeps. And the reading load for Hum 110 gives you a built-in excuse for laggardly response.

Kosta Kushlev is a psychology researcher at the University of Virginia who examines the effect of technology, parenting, money, and other factors on personal well-being. 

Tags: Alumni, Health/Wellness