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Is email bad for your health?

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Is email bad for your health?

Last week I was listening to the latest This Week in Tech podcast, in which one of the guests was speaking about the concept of Email Apnea – a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.

I did some research into this and came across this article – Just Breathe: Building the case for Email Apnea.  In the article the author Linda Stone says

I observed others on computers and Blackberries: in their offices, their homes, at cafes — the vast majority of people held their breath, or breathed very shallowly, especially when responding to email. I watched people on cell phones, talking and walking, and noticed that most were mouth-breathing and hyperventilating. Consider also, that for many, posture while seated at a computer can contribute to restricted breathing.

She goes on to quote various pieces of research which suggests that restricted breathing coupled with bad posture, while reading email, is having a very negative impact on our health.

I am continually looking for hooks that will create buy in to Social Media, and knocking email down is one of my pet hobbies.  I think I might very well add this story to my growing collection.

So how can you reduce the impact of email on a day to day basis?

  1. Turn off any audio alerts or pop-ups on your email program that informs you when a new email is delivered into your inbox.  Even better, turn your email program off when you are not using it, and need to focus on something else.
  2. Check your email twice a day. I’d suggest around Noon and again at 4pm.  The start of the day should be dedicated to creating your daily plan, and completing your most important task.
  3. Utilise filters to organise your incoming email. If you receive a lot of emails from DLs, and it is not important to check these daily, then create subfolders, and populate them using filters.  You can then check these once a week, month, or quarter, whatever is approriate.
  4. Instead of sending a Word Document out for review by email, and consequently inviting lots of email replies, why don’t you do it differently?  Do you have access to a Wiki?  Why not create the document in there, and share the link with your colleagues.
  5. Next time you have a meeting to organise, instead of using email to draw up the agenda, and again inviting lots of traffic to your Inbox, try using a Wiki.
  6. Avoid answering one to one questions via email.  If possible push people to post their questions into a community based environment e.g. Forums or a Social Network.  Over time this will change people’s behaviours and make them think twice about sending you an email.  In addition it creates a Knowledge Base for other people who might have similar questions.

I hope you find some of these tips useful, and are able to put them into practice.

What hint/tips do you have for managing your email volume?  Please share in the comments.

The views expressed on this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Oracle.

Image credited to

I live in Kilkenny, Ireland, and I'm married with one daughter. I was born in Derry, and came to Kilkenny via Manchester, England, and Dublin. My passion is all things Social Media, and for the last 2 years I have been working as a Social Media Evangelist for Oracle, where I have worked for the last 8 years. This role entails, promoting the use of Social Media internally for improved communication and collaboration. My other interests include sports, especially football (soccer), reading, video games, movies/tv, music and walking.

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  • I am sure that the friendships and contacts they made will remain for a very long time. The unfortunate thing is that these are the very people that will in fact lead us out of this mess, start-ups and small businesses that will grow to form our new economy. It must be an uniquely Irish thing to try and make it hard for them to do so because I am convinced there is not a rational explanation but I invite anyone to tell me otherwise? Thanks, Niall

  • Anonymous

    I love this discussion and totally feel your frustration!

    But so much of the debate goes deep into a whole raft of reasons as to why we are in the current mess. It is true that understanding our failings will help us do better in the future and to this end I totally agree with Una’s comment on celebrating failure: “Make great mistakes” as Brian Tracey would say.

    However, it is creating an agreed vision for the future of Ireland where we are seriously struggling. Take lack of leadership as being one of the key issues we currently face. Something common to all great leaders is that they show a road map, a destination as to where they want to bring their followers. Often this is only a destination and they need huge help in working out how to get there. It seems to me now that everyone is focussed on how we got to where we are and what we do now, without any consideration as to where we want to get to, our destination.

    With regards our politicians, it is like asking the Kerryman for directions to Dublin – “I wouldn’t start from here!!” Whatever for the popular support for the parties which is naturally divided up out of 100%, it is the satisfaction ratings with the “Leaders” of these parties that should be the cause for concern. In effect, there are very few people poled who follow them – and why should they as they have not yet set out a destination.

    As someone in the process of establishing a new business in these difficult times, my advice to all is turn off RTE and ignore the politicians. Invest all your time in your family, customers, staff and business relationships and you will find the world is in fact a brighter place!!

  • Anonymous


    Not holding back or anything, are you? LOL

    I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of days (Had some weird technical problem that wouldn’t let me post earlier.) This will be a wasted opportunity if we all let it be wasted. There are those who are going to say that it’s always been this way and nothing can change it. They are not part of the new Ireland. There are those who are so afraid of failure that they won’t even try. They are not part of the new Ireland either.

    This is an awkward and messy process. Compassion and commitment are going to be necessary to find a place for those who are unsure or even suspicious of how Ireland can be re-invented. Throughout your post and the comments is the idea that personal responsibility and action are required. The wonderful thing is that there are so many like-minded people that no one has to act alone (nor could it work if one person tried to create the new Tiger alone).

    So, what’s the plan? How do we assign tasks? Who will follow through? And how will we know the plan is active?

  • Mary C. Dolan

    Agree 100% but how? It’s very difficult to put food on the table and meet the ordinary utility bills when a couple has been affected by losing jobs through (a) forced retirement and (b) no money in the company to pay a salary. And, believe me, the Celtic Tiger never visited me! I have worked very hard for the 14 years I’ve been living here, getting a job one month after arriving and yes, working very hard to find a job in the last 18 months. We (the ‘leadership’ of this country) squandered what should have been used to fix the hospital system, provide health services for those in most need (mental and physical disabilities and long-term diseases), develop SMEs, put large chunks of money into R&D, etc. We must put people to work and after this length of time at half the wages would suit most people as being better than debilitating Social Welfare. I don’t have the answers and it’s getting very difficult to face each day with little or no prospects, but by the Lord Harry, with the wealth of entrepreneurial spirit that has emerged in this country, there is no reason why we can’t pull ourselves out of this if a proper system of appointing people to head government departments who are business people and not politicians were put in place. Let’s run the country with the likes of the Michael O’Learys who proved guts and determination can make a difference. As you say, it is not good enough to just accept this situation as being a bit better than some of our neighbours!

  • @Julian, thanks so much for your comments and the very best of luck with the new venture, looking forward to finding out more. I think you make a great point about having a road map, the problem as you point out is that no one has been able to describe the destination. Our political leadership is currently firefighting rather than actually taking a step back, listening and then deciding where we want to take this small country over the medium and long-term. We need to start talking about “get ahead” rather than the current obsession with “keep up”

    @Elli, as always. thanks for your valued input. The plan is what can we do that sets us apart for the next 10/20 years? what advantages do we have? what opportunities do we have? How can we impact the rest of the world? I think we gotta start by looking out rather than in 🙂 Ireland is a small country so speed should be a major advantage, we need to learn to move fast.

    @Mary, Thank you for taking the time to comment. “the wealth of entrepreneurial spirit that has emerged in this country, there is no reason why we can’t pull ourselves out of this if a proper system of appointing people to head government departments who are business people and not politicians were put in place” AGREED!!! how many of our politicians have any kind of business experience? how many of them have any of their own ideas? We need some radical thinking/ideas and we need it in a hurry.

  • Anonymous

    Totally am with you in this discussion. Have little to contribute but can benefit from it.

  • I don’t agree, I think you have plenty to add. The big heads (establishment) are the ones with little brains, we need new flesh and new ideas.

  • Anonymous


    10 or 20 years is a long time…well, that’s thinking big. It seems to me that a short-term plan and a long-term plan have to be established.

    So, what would happen if entrepreneurs partnered w/ universities? What about established business owners partnering with universities? What kind of R&D is going on in Ireland and where? How can that R&D be commercialised? What is still working just fine? What industries are showing signs of recovery?

  • Julien Rocher

    Niall, thank you, your blog is exceptionally accurate.
    First off, are your able to join the LinkedIn site called ‘your country your call’. I think this blog link should also be published there, as the audience is of a similar mind.
    Secondly, could I ask you to assume you were elected Taoiseach and had just replaced every leader with your personal choice. What would you and your group of leaders do to recover the Celtic Tiger, and ensure that the recovery is sustainable in the long term?

  • Hi Julian, thank you for the kind words and yes I am a member of ‘your country your call’. As regards a recovery, I think the first thing that you need to decide is where it is you want to go exactly in 5 yrs, in 10 and so on. The biggest global opportunities at the mo are technology and green, there is significant opportunity for Ireland in both fields, our aim should be to become world leaders in both. The Global Irish is a trump card that we have yet to figure out how to play but I think we need to start by asking a different question. Change it from what can you do for us to what can we do for you?
    We have got to get out of this “keep up” “firefighting” mentality that we are in and come up with a radical “get ahead” plan of action for the next 5-10 years. We know the world is changing and we know where it is going, because we are a small country should have the ability to move faster than anyone else but to get there we need the right leaders, with the right skill-set and the balls to make the decisions to take us there.

  • Anonymous

    Good advice Fred.
    This is something I have been putting off for about 2 years.
    I will be off out this weekend to buy a tripod.

  • Thanks Paul!

  • Hi Fred. Some good tips here – looking forward to the rest. Integration of video is something that we are still trying to figure out – probably in the context as an alternative to the “written” blog. Thanks for sharing

  • Anonymous


    Your first post is probably one of the clearest explanations of how to do video well! Even though a lot of us know that video is popular, it can be intimidating to know where to begin. Thank you for the simple guide forward.

  • DiviCommsTrust

    Hi Fred,

    Very helpful…in plain English. Looking forward to the next one..

  • Hey thanks!

  • Thanks a lot Elli. Even though online video is growing hugely, it’s still making its first steps. This means that anyone that starts thinking “video” from now, and also ads a nice slice of creativity will have much better chances of being remarkable… definitely different than the competition 🙂

  • Thanks a lot Barney. Yeah, I guess it’s all about getting “uncomfortable” for those that refuse to think about online video. Anyways, if we forget about video, in times like this, anyone not trying to get out of their conform zone will face deep difficulties.
    Online video is not rocket science. It’s about trying, and like anything in life, the more you do it the better you become at it 🙂

  • Nice one Fran. Point 2 is crucial. It’s hard but as “The four hour week” suggests, it would be healthy to check your inbox maybe at 11am and 4pm. This a great way of getting tempted to answer emails all day and spend too much time in your inbox instead of creating stuff

  • Scary stuff Frank! I think point 6 is a good one. Over & Back can become such a frustrating experience using e-mail. Speaking of which I need to check my mail, old habits die hard but well get there 🙂

  • Good tips. I currently have over 2,000 unread messages – I think it’s time for a cleanup and some folders to be set up :o)

  • Great suggestions Frank – there are a thousand more concerning Outlook, but you’ve highlighted some great tips.

    Timing is important also – It’s been found that we are at our most creative for the first 3 hours of the day, so unless it takes 2 hours to get to work, we all have between 1 and 2 hours of top creativity time.

    It’s important not to use it to check email and do all those routine jobs we tend to do when entering the office. We can use it more productively, so the time slots suggested for email are spot on!

  • I will be using the twice a day tip from now on. Checking email can become a compulsion and is a demotivator, especially if you don’t get the sort of emails you want!

  • ..very good advice! Thanks for the post.

    Email is certainly a challenge and burden! The buzz Google Wave initially created as a collaboration environment for email replacement seems to be going away. That vision was so on target, but the limitations gotta go away for it to used across platforms.

    In so many corporate circles, culturally email is almost expected to be read upon receipt, and taking the twice-a-day approach in such organizations can (and will) get one fired. Though for small business and freelancers it’s possible.

    We’d like to add that an extranet environment and project management platform such as Basecamp works very well –though it’s much costlier than free.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Fred. Good spot re: point 2 and “The Four Hour Work Week”. I picked up this habit from that excellent book, and it is something that I strive to do every day. You also make a great point about “creating stuff” – letting email rule the rhythm of the day, is never going to allow anything to be created.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Niall. Refusing to answer basic questions over email, has been one of the biggest contributors to my work email reducing in the last 18 months. It took some time for the message to get across, but it seems to be hitting home now. I still need to get the big stick out from time to time and give people a gentle reminder. One additional benefit is that we’ve created a nice community of about 300 people in our Social Network. This means that quite often a question will be answered by the time I get to it. This benefit really kicks in when I’m not available i.e on holidays, off sick, or in meetings/training.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the reply Michelle. One other tip that I didn’t include is that you should periodically purge/archive your Inbox on a regular basis e.g. monthly or quarterly. For example if there are emails in your inbox older than 6 months and you haven’t responded to them yet, are you really going to do it now, and is the person who sent it, really going to still expect a reply?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Elaine. Yes it seems that using the morning time productively is key. It’s not surprising to hear lots of productive people saying that this is the time they get most done. I think it is key to do some pre-work before finishing up the previous day, so you can hit the ground running, first thing.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Derbhile. Glad to hear that you are going to change your behaviour with regard to email.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment. Good point about Google Wave – great idea, but unfortunately poor execution, to date.

    I would disagree about the expectation to read email upon receipt in large corporations. I have worked in a company with approx 100,000 people for 8 years, and I have yet to hear of anyone who has been fired for not reading their email upon receipt. If something was that urgent (i.e. had to be done right now) then I would question the wisdom of sending the request by email. Surely the phone or Instant Messenger would be more appropriate.

  • Vinnie

    Sorry Frank, but i can’t see the connection. Sorry.
    I work at a desk anyway. Email’s on-screen just the same as my work. How is email worse for me than the work i’m doing at the same desk?
    Was there a study linking ‘working at a desk’ to bad health? That’s what grabbed my attention. Email took over the article though.
    All the best,
    Keep breathing pal,

  • Anonymous

    Hi Vinnie, thanks for your comment,

    I agree with your observation that it makes no difference if it’s email or other work that you are doing at your desk. Sitting all day is not good for our health.

    The point of the article title, and the introduction, was to capture people’s attention. The rest of the article was about ways in which to spend less time on email. Maybe I’ll put together a follow-up article on how to spend less time at the desk.



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  • Mary – great point about being timely. Do you have an opinion about going through the small claims court process before going to collections? My experience is collection agencies are in a stronger position if there is a court order.

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