Creatives on the edge of their inbox

If you’re a typical creative professional using e-mail for work, then you check for new messages as many as 30 or 40 times an hour, for anything from a few seconds to a minute.

Such is the headline finding from researchers at Paisley and Glasgow universities, who probed the computer messaging habits of workers in the creative industries.

Not only is a deluge of mail stressing out workers, by constantly having to answer senders’ requests, but repeatedly checking for new messages is dragging down productivity levels.

Workers report tiredness, frustrated and unproductive spells as a result of trying to keep up with the messages as they pour in.

Dr Karen Renaud, from the University of Glasgow's Computing Science department, advised workers to check their messages just a few times a day.

Such an approach to the send/receive tab would cut stress levels, safeguard their health and stop them “feeling invaded by emails,” the researchers said.

"E-mail is the thing that now causes us the most problems in our working lives,” Dr Renaud said.

“It's an amazing tool, but it's got out of hand. Email harries you. You want to know what's in there, especially if it's from a family member or friends, or your boss, so you break off what you are doing to read the email.”

Along with psychologist Judith Ramsay of Paisley University and her colleague Mario Hair, a statistician, Dr Renaud surveyed 177 people, mainly academics and those involved in creative jobs, to see how they dealt with emails received at work.

They found that 34 per cent of workers felt stressed by the sheer number of emails and obligation to respond quickly and a further 28 per cent were driven because they saw them as a source of pressure.

Just 38 per cent of workers were characterised as being “relaxed” because they did not reply until a day or even a week later.

"The problem is that when you go back to what you were doing, you've lost your chain of thought and, of course, you are less productive,” Dr Renaud said.

“People's brains get tired from breaking off from something every few minutes to check emails. The more distracted you are by distractions, including email, then you are going to be more tired and less productive."

According to the researchers, females, in particular, tend to feel more pressure to respond than males.

They recommended that e-mail senders at work should never press their colleagues, especially those they oversee, to respond to their emails as they would to a phone call.

Recipients should not constantly monitor their emails "since this will negatively affect all other work activities", and should instead set aside dedicated email reading times to catch up on their messages.


14th August 2007

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