A report this week by the organisation, Digital Awareness UK and carried out for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference revealed that teenagers are checking taking their mobile phones to bed and checking them for notifications through the night. One in ten of those surveyed, checked their phone ten times nightly.
This situation, and the ensuing lack of sleep for our youngsters, is no surprise to those of us who have worked with teenagers, or their younger siblings and ever discussed with them, their sleep habits. When I was teaching full time I could often be struggling in the morning, having managed just five hours sleep only to learn that several of the thirteen year olds I was teaching had been awake, and using their phone at 3am.
What’s surprised me a lot more this week is learning that adults check their emails around nine times an hour at work. Or in other words, about seventy-four times a day. That number was calculated by Gloria Mark, a researcher at the University of California. She also monitored office workers’ heart rates both normally and after a week without email. Stress levels diminished almost immediately as co-workers held face to face conversations or found alternative ways to communicate.
Another researcher interested in our overuse of emails, Jocelyn Glei has published a book on the subject, Unsubscribe. She comes up with some practical suggestions on mastering our email over usage and consequently freeing up time and lowering anxiety levels.
Her first suggestion is to allot times in a day to check and reply to a batch of emails. For teachers, I would further suggest identifying the times when you are most capable of being productive. Don’t check emails during these optimum working hours. To help yourself with this, make sure that the email tab is not visible on your computer screen and remember; multitasking is a myth – the number of things we can do well at one time is one.
Having worked with many stressed out teachers, I would also urge you to think again about checking emails at home. There’s no contractual demand that you must do so and you are entitled to family time and down time. The worst example I came across was a headteacher who would regularly email teachers with midnight demands for a report and expect the completed work in school the next morning. How could any headteacher ever think this was reasonable?
One last thing to be aware of, is that good habits take a while to form. If you start your new email regime with good intentions but soon find yourself, falling into old habits minutes, just keep trying again. Reward yourself when you do stick to the targets you’ve set and enjoy the additional time that you eventually gain for other tasks or relaxation. I’m fairly certain that email was invented to make life easier, not become our lives and we need to relegate it to its original function.