If you feel like you spend way too much of your supposedly off hours checking email, you're right. And you're not alone.

A survey of U.S. adults released today by the enterprise service management platform Samanage showed just how bad the problem of business email after hours is. Almost one in four, 24.6 percent, say they receive work emails on their mobile devices. Of those, 35 percent say they spend an hour a day or more checking email. That adds up to more than 30 days a year -- three times as much as the typical American spends on vacation.

That's bad in so many ways I don't know where to begin. Disconnecting from work, email included, is necessary to brain health, physical health, and relationships. It also makes you less effective at the very job you're sacrificing your leisure time for. Many entrepreneurs and business leaders report getting their best ideas while in the shower, on vacation, during a hike, or other times when email is emphatically not present. There's a reason for that -- stepping away from the day-to-day crush of work allows you to see the big picture and become more creative.

Why are so many of us (me included) donating so much of our supposed leisure time to our work email? The survey offers some insights, and some clues as to how to fix the problem.

1. Why check email after work? We believe we have no choice.

When asked why they check email after work hours, 10.5 percent chose the answer, "My boss expects it." That's bad enough, but consider the other choices. About 26 percent chose "It helps me stay organized," 24 percent selected, "I need to feel connected to work," and another 21 percent said, "I don't want to fall behind on work."

If you think about it, all four answers amount to the same idea: If you don't spend part of your off-time dealing with email, you won't be doing your job well. That's pretty sad, and pretty frightening when you think about it. And apparently more than 81 percent of us feel that way.

2. Email may be ruining our home lives.

More than 60 percent of respondents admitted to checking email during dinner, and about 24 percent said they do so "very often." Unless you're dining alone, that means email is taking you away from your relationships with family and friends during the few evening and weekend hours you're supposed to be focused on them. That's not a good thing. It can weaken these relationships in the long run.

Even worse, email is preventing people from getting a good night's sleep. Fifty percent of respondents said they have woken up to check email, and 19 percent said they do so very often. Put these findings together, and it's clear that work email can be damaging to your health.

3. Give us texts, please!

Is there a better alternative to email? When asked how they would replace email with a different communications tool, 55 percent voted for text messages. Another 19 percent would opt for an online chat tool such as Slack or Google chat. Only about 11 percent would opt for social media.

4. Better yet, only tell us what's truly urgent.

When asked what could help control after-hours email interruptions, 40 percent of respondents said flagging emails that required their response would improve matters by letting them ignore everything else. Another 14 percent wanted the more hard-core alternative of blocking all work emails after hours. 

Unfortunately, some of us appear to like checking email after work, with 37 percent saying it made them feel productive and connected, while only 20 percent said it made them feel overwhelmed. That's the biggest problem: Some of us have become addicted to our always-on, always-connected, always-at-work lifestyles.

But that doesn't mean it's good for us. Perhaps cutting off all emails after hours is a good idea after all.

Published on: Apr 21, 2016
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