Why You Should Stop Checking E-mail (at Quitting Time)

Last Updated May 12, 2010 9:16 AM EDT

Last week, we conducted a poll to see how many readers felt pressured to check e-mail 24/7. When I last checked, more than a third of you were expected to read and respond to e-mail in real-time, even after business hours.

Unfortunately, while it might be an admirable work ethic, it's terrible for productivity (and it might kill you, too). At least, that's the conclusion of the Harvard Business Review.

Last week at the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz wrote about the "productivity myth." It turns out that even though Americans are working 10 percent fewer hours than before the recession, overall productivity has remained about the same. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke called these productivity gains "extraordinary," without noting the obvious: We're so productive because we're all scared of losing our jobs.

Americans work longer hours than any other country -- the e-mail policy a third of you adhere to is a good example. But is that a good thing? Is it going to pay off for us in the long term? Schwartz says no:

  • The average American sleeps less than 6 1/2 hours a night. Costs include higher rates of illness and worse on-the-job performance.
  • Working more than 50 hours a week has been correlated with higher job dissatisfaction and worse job performance.
  • The longer and more continuously people work, the less value they get from each additional hour - and the more alienated and disengaged they become.
So the conclusion? Put your BlackBerry away after dinner and go play with your kids.

Photo by ydhsu