IN the digital age, the workplace is an increasingly stressful space – responses are expected to be as fast as lightning and workers are almost expected to be on call 24/7.
Is there anything we do to alleviate some of the stresses incurred by working life? Some experts would prescribe rest and relaxation, better organisational skills, or even stress management. Others say the best thing you can do is give up email.
In 2013, researchers at Loughborough University in the UK found the overwhelming majority of workers became more stressed while sending and receiving email - their blood pressure and heart rate all increased while they were in their inbox.
One woman who doesn’t have to worry about this study is author and businesswoman Claire Burge who decided to cut her losses and give up email for 12 months. Two years later, she still hasn’t gone back.
Claire explains she first realised the negative impact email was having on her life when she returned from holidays.
She said: “My husband and I had been abroad and when we got back I had over 1,000 emails. He had over 8,000. It was ridiculous. And it was all actionable stuff, it wasn’t spam. I had to spend a full day going through it.”
Claire said she felt more stressed coming back from that holiday than when she left. “You either have to continue to check your email on holiday or face a huge backlog once you get home,” she said. “When I started out to become an entrepreneur, I didn’t think my day would be spent chasing an inbox. It was completely consuming my life.”
The experience forced her to look at how she was using email and prompted her to try and find an alternative. Initially she started to analyse the type of emails she received, and realised 80% were task-related and could be dealt with more productively on other platforms.Shortly after, she decided just to go with her gut instinct and get rid of email.She put an auto-response on her account to explain the situation and asked people to contact her through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
The reaction to her decision was divided to say the least.
“People were totally split down the middle,” she said. “Some were saying ‘Yes, go for it!’ and others couldn’t believe it. Then there were those who were almost insulted by my decision. A lot of people got really angry at me over it.
“It really intrigued me and I realised it was a problem other people are also dealing with. It’s the silent problem everyone is affected by but nobody wants to talk about.”
After taking the initial plunge, Claire now had to find a way to effectively communicate not just with her team at work but with her clients.
She decided the best thing to do was to meet her clients in a space they were already operating in. She used platforms such as project management app’, Basecamp and content management app, Huddle and taught her clients to categorise messages into one of three sections:
Day-to-day discussions that do not need to be retained
Important information that needs to be referenced over and again
Information that requires specific action
Claire explains: “The unwritten rule of email is that you have to try and empty it out. But if you get away from this and into a task-based environment, work becomes a lot more productive.”
The businesswoman said that out of everyone, her clients were the most receptive to the new system. Some even chose to give up email themselves.
While inspired by this, Claire does stress that giving up email is not for everyone - if people feel their system is working then she doesn’t see why they should change.”
So far, Claire says she has reclaimed around three hours a day by eradicating email from her life. She also says it’s easier for her to switch off now when she gets home and she’s not constantly checking her email to see if something has come in.
Since embarking on the project Claire has seen her productivity soar from 23% to 68%. Her company is also making more money because of it.
“Companies have started approaching us asking if I can do the same thing for them and get them away from email and onto a more task orientated path. Now it’s a whole other revenue stream for us.
“My workday is no longer dictated by email,” she says. “Instead, I open the project tool belonging to the client who I will be giving my attention to for that day. And at the end of every day, I write down my task list for the following day.”