Checking email less often may reduce stress in part by cutting down on the need to switch between tasks. An unfortunate limitation of the human mind is that it cannot perform two demanding tasks simultaneously, so flipping back and forth between two different tasks saps cognitive resources. As a result, people can become less efficient in each of the tasks they need to accomplish. In addition to providing an unending source of new tasks for our to-do lists, email could also be making us less efficient at accomplishing those tasks.
For some individuals, though, checking email less frequently is simply not an option. The stockbroker who misses a million-dollar deal by logging off email is likely to feel more, not less, stressed. That said, most of us probably check our email more often than is truly necessary to get our job done. A recent survey found that 55 percent of workers reported checking their email after 11 p.m. — and 6 percent reported checking email while they or their spouse were in labor. (One of the authors of this article admits to falling into this 6 percent.)