Is email making you stressed?

Next time you open your inbox, notice what happens to your breathing. Do you hold your breath when you open your inbox? Or does your breathing speed up?

Email makes many of us feel anxious, overwhelmed and stressed.

The never-ending stream of demands coming at us can seem just too much to deal with. The information overload can be overwhelming.

Close your inbox for a moment and step back. Ask yourself just how healthy your relationship with email is… and if it is causing you stress or strain, what can you do to improve this?

The huge reaction to the recent news that 250,000 French workers have been told – following a legally-binding labor agreement – to disconnect outside of working hours, shows that many of us are perhaps missing a vital element when it comes to email: boundaries.

For these French workers, it’s simple. The rule says no email outside of working hours, so no email outside of working hours it is…

Is this what many of us are craving? For someone to draw us a line?

In the absence of someone to tell us to switch off, it’s time to put our own boundaries in place.

Try these tips:

1. Avoid keeping your email open all the time. Being constantly distracted by updates and pinging demands from other people means that you’ll never turn your full attention to the work you’re doing. It means you’ll be constantly ‘on alert,’ will be less productive and will make more mistakes. Even half an hour switched off at a time is beneficial. Try it.

2. Decide how many times a day you want to check email. Twice? Four times? Only once? This can depend on the day. Many of us blame the boss or the people we work with for the reason we check email so much. But in fact, much of the pressure we feel to check we actually put on ourselves. Notice this, and talk to your boss about email methods and productivity if needs be.

3. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. If you do, you’ll immediately be spending your time and energy on other people’s demands, rather than on your own priority tasks. Do something else first for an hour (or two hours). See what a difference this makes to your productivity.

4. Decide what time to switch off email at the end of the day. Stick to this. Log out and breathe.

If all else fails, however, there is always one more option… shut down, pack up and move to France.

This blogpost also appears on The Huffington Post website


Suffering from information overload? Time to look up from that screen …

Do you feel like you are constantly on call these days? As though your day is dictated by the beep and ‘pling’ of messages and updates, pulling you this way and that?

Picture the scene: you’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and their phone beeps. They turn to their smartphone, saying “hmm, what was that,” as they pretend to listen to you. How does that make you feel?

Here’s another snapshot: It’s the end of the day, and you stand up from your desk feeling frazzled and wired. Yet when you tot up what you’ve done you realise it amounts to little more than fielding email demands, your attention pulled this way and that. You’ve been busy, and you’re stressed, but somehow you didn’t get round to the one thing you were meant to do today.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone …

People often ask why I wrote The Distraction Trap. It was because I started to notice that everywhere I went, people were staring down at screens. You’ve probably noticed them too, on trains and buses, or walking down the street veering in front of you. Perhaps they’re even in your own front room …

I started to question whether this constant connectedness was really healthy, or productive. Had we all really opted in to being on call? Was everything really so urgent?

Researching these issues, I found that the reasons for our behaviour around digital media are complex.

We check, and check, and check again. It’s a habit, verging in some cases on addiction. We check our smartphones every few minutes. We check our social media all the time because of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). We check our email because we feel like we should (though the expectation we put on ourselves is often far heavier than the expectation of others).

And while we adopt these new behaviours, other things go by the wayside; things like concentration and communicating in person.

In this blog on digital life, I’ll be exploring some of these issues. I’ll look at the huge pressures constant connectivity puts on us, the cost of distraction to productivity and wellbeing, and how to – whisper it – press the off button now and again and do a digital detox.

Can you be happy and disconnected? How much is too much when it comes to screen time for young people? And is it possible to spend a bit less of your life checking email?

These of the some of the questions I’ll be answering.

This is not about saying technology is bad. It’s about exploring how we choose to use technology, and understanding the pull digital devices have on us. It’s about being in control of how we fit digital devices in to our lives, rather than being ruled by them.

Long, long ago, in a past far away, there was a time Before Google (BG). Those of us old enough to remember it can vouch for the fact that there was also a time before mobiles – never mind smartphones. Somehow, the world turned.

Then, things changed. And fast.

In the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, huge swathes of our digital landscape as we know it were formed. We started emailing en masse, went mobile, and met Facebook and Twitter for the first time …

It’s strange to think that these changes were so relatively recent. We’ve embraced platform after platform, without even stopping to look up.

However, as anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by information overload knows, sometimes we go a little too far.

Now, it’s time to take a step back, and look around. This is a chance to regain a sense of digital balance, and to decide what a healthy, productive digital life means for you.

Try this today: Notice how often you check your smartphone


How to do a digital detox

Frazzled by constant demands or exhausted by information overload? A digital detox could be just what you need …


Detox is a word we often associate with New Year. During the January hangover from the December before, we cut out all that is bad for us, and latch on to the latest detox trends.

But while the idea of detox is familiar to many of us in terms of health, it can also be useful in a slightly different guise – as a digital detox.

Just like a health detox, the aim of a digital detox is to improve your overall wellbeing.

And what better time to try this than the ‘second new year’ of September? It could make all the difference to your stress levels in the season ahead.

So how do you go about it?

A digital detox means you switch off your smartphone, laptop, tablet, and any other digital devices for a certain length of time.

While the idea of this may fill you with dread, the best evidence of the benefits of a digital detox come from trying it yourself.

Once you do, the chances are you’ll feel calmer, less stressed, and able to think clearly at last. No beeping, no pinging, and no incessant demands – for however long you choose.

This gives you chance to focus on what you want to do, be that properly paying attention as you spend time with people you care about, or pursuing your dreams and goals.

So if you’re interested in doing a digital detox, how long should you switch off for?

How long does a digital detox need to be?

To get the maximum benefit from a digital detox, you should switch off for 72 hours.

Don’t panic. We wouldn’t suggest you start with this – a full 72-hour detox takes some building up to and planning.

There are other, gradual steps you can take first.

Press the off button on your smartphone. How does it feel? See if you can keep everything switched off for 15 minutes. Next time, aim for half an hour, then an hour.

Many people will experience withdrawal symptoms when they first switch off. These symptoms vary from person to person, but may include feeling disconnected, bored, or worrying that you are missing out.

These feelings will gradually pass.

Once you’re ready to aim for a more lengthy digital detox, why not aim to switch off for a full 24 hours? This is long enough to notice benefits. Repeating a 24-hour detox every so often is a great way to recharge.

A good time for a digital detox is the weekend. Could you, for example, switch off on a Friday evening until a Saturday evening? Or press the off button for the whole of Sunday? Decide what works for you.

Another ideal time to do a digital detox (and to try an even longer spell switched off) is while on holiday. One key to a successful detox is making sure you have other activities to fill your time, and a holiday is a great opportunity for this.

If you’re ready to do a digital detox, then why not give it a try …

If you want more advice or support to help you achieve a digital detox, get in touch with us to book a one-to-one digital detox session.

– Frances Booth is author of The Distraction Trap and an expert in digital detox. She works with companies and individuals on productivity, digital distraction and digital health.

© Frances Booth