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Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration

UCI findings could boost on-the-job productivity

— Irvine, Calif., May 03, 2012 —

Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

Heart rate monitors were attached 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.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark. She co-authored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello. The UCI team will present the work Monday, May 7, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

The study was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Participants 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.”

Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men. The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

The Army is examining use of smartphones and such applications as email for soldiers on battlefields, said David Accetta, spokesman for the Natick facility’s research and development section. “This data may very well prove helpful,” he said.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news,

Email Overload

What’s going on here?

Our research, completed in 2010, revealed that the average person spends 30 minutes PER DAY deleting, or thinking about deleting, email!!

When did email become our work product and why do we have so much?!  It’s getting out of hand.

No one expects you to be a drone and tap away at your computer endlessly, tied to your machine for every minute of every day, but 3o minutes deleting email?  Over the course of a standard work-week, that’s 2 1/2 hours.  In a month, 10 hours; in a year 120 (15 eight-hour workdays).  That’s a lot of time you’ll never get back.  And that’s just you.  Multiply that over your project team, department, or company, and you just might feel a little ill.

Why?  Why do we get so much email that we don’t read?  I’m not talking about email lists that you sign up for giving you the latest sales from your favorite store.  Those aren’t counted in this research.  This research focused specifically on work-related email messages that were sent by real people to real people.

Does this mean that, even after all this time, many people still don’t understand how to use email effectively?  Yes, indeed it does.

What can you do?  They answers are not as simple as they appear on the surface (as is true for our most persistent problems).  For the sake of this article, we’re going to take a look at how a simple shift in your attitude toward email can help reduce the number of unwanted messages that you send and receive.

First, understand the purpose of the “TO” and “CC” fields. “TO” requires action.  “CC” requires none, it is a “for your information only” indicator.

Second, use “CC” sparingly.  Sending your manager or team leader multiple messages every week in which no action is required from them is just an annoying way to say, “look, Boss, I’m doing my job!”; “look at me!  look at me!”; “still here, working away!”  like some yappy little dog.  If you don’t feel trusted to get your work done, then that’s a different conversation you need to have face to face with your team lead.

Finally, resist the temptation to “CC” your team lead / manager whenever you feel a dispute is in the works and you want an “official” record of your position. This culture of “CYA” – “cover your … ahem, derriere” leads to unnecessary email messages and wasted time.  Take your dispute off-line and work it out in person.  It will be infintely better, trust me.

We get too much email.  We send too much email.  We delete too much email.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Start taking control through the judicious use of the “CC” field.

This article is the first in a series designed to help reduce your email overload.  Please share with us any comments / stories you have about your own email situation.

Making the Matrix Work for You!

People skills, huh?  Developing trust?  Sounds like another topic designed to waste your precious time instead of giving you something you can actually use.  I get it.  I really, really do.

But here’s the thing — when you have resources delegated to you without traditional authority over them, how are you supposed to ensure that they are doing their part?!

Do you rant and rave?  Cross your fingers and hope?  What?!

I can tell you that the people who find the matrix to be a comfortable and effective work environment are the people who have spent the time and effort to develop their people skills.  Specifically, the skills that will create trust between you and your team members, regardless of who is their direct supervisor.

The core of success within the matrix is in understanding that things only get done through networks and through patterns of relationships.  And relationships built on trust are the only relationships that work.  Ever.

That’s all well and good, and easy to understand, but how do you do it? How do you develop these skills, especially in the virtual world?

Over the years, Bridging Distance has been coaching, consulting and training people in matrix management.  We’ve helped companies and organizations — large and small — succeed within the matrix by placing the focus on the “softer” set of people skills.

Allow me to introduce Carlos.  Carlos was the lead on a food product team chartered to bring a food product in-line with upcoming government nutritional standards.  His team’s objective was to modify the existing product and get it to market ahead of regulations and competitors.

His timeframe was extremely short – 4 months – and the marketing department was depending on him to deliver so they could claim that they were the “first to get healthy” and demonstrate that the company cared more about the health of its customers than the competition.

The challenge:  nutrition experts in one city working with chefs in various cities to create one single recipe which would be used by the manufacturing facility in another part of the world.  Few of these people reported directly to Carlos.

The process:  Carlos, a corporate manager in the food industry, began his career as a trained chef and, over the years, he kept in touch with his former colleagues, asking opinions and sharing information.  Additionally, he reached out to understand the everyday ups and downs of people in the Nutrition, Procurement, and Regulatory spaces of his product.  Further, he took the time to learn about the culture of the manufacturing plant, as well as the culture of the country in which it was located.

The end of the story:  Success!  Carlos had the contacts, the credibility, and the relationships to draw upon for this tight time-frame.  He was able to tap into his network to inquire about critical information — things to consider and pitfalls to avoid.  His connections responded in droves, wanting to be a part of the success in his new endeavor.

Question:  How much time did establishing these relationships take?  Not that much — Carlos took a few minutes here and there to capitalize on opportunities and ask questions, learn more, and share information.

Through our workshops, training, and coaching services, we help people like Carlos implement a skill set that has proven time and time again to help individuals, teams, and corporations succeed in today’s virtual work environment.