Mark, G.J., Voida, S. & Cardello, A.V. (to appear). “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons”: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email. To appear in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012), Austin, Texas, May 5–10. ACM Press.
We report on an empirical study where we cut off email usage for five workdays for 13 information workers in an organization. We employed both quantitative measures such as computer log data and ethnographic methods to compare a baseline condition (normal email usage) with our experimental manipulation (email cutoff). Our results show that without email, people multitasked less and had a longer task focus, as measured by a lower frequency of shifting between windows and a longer duration of time spent working in each computer window. Further, we directly measured stress using wearable heart rate monitors and found that stress, as measured by heart rate variability, was lower without email. Interview data were consistent with our quantitative measures, as participants reported being able to focus more on their tasks. We discuss the implications for managing email better in organizations.