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PhotoWith the approach of vacation season, here's something to consider: taking a vacation from your email – especially work email – can help you feel more like you're on vacation.

That might seem fairly obvious, but researcher at the U.S. Army and the University of California Irvine (UCI) conducted experiments to actually prove it. They attached heart-rate monitors to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows.

People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

Less multitasking, less stress

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark, who co-authored the study.

Participants in the study were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.

Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful.

“Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Interestingly, Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but once participants began to do without email, they loved it.

“In general, they were much happier to interact in person,” she said.


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