How to stay productive even as emails and messages interrupt your workflow, according to psychologists

How to stay productive even as emails and messages interrupt your workflow, according to psychologists
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  • As offices transitioned to online in the pandemic, email and instant messaging became essential.
  • Communication platforms can leave you feeling distracted and stressed.
  • Psychologists recommend unitasking to avoid tech-related stress during the workday.

The red dot on your tab, a loud ping from an email, or a startling ring tone - the constant noises and notifications throughout the workday may leave you feeling scattered, stressed, and pull you away from getting work done.

"Our reliance on technology is obviously enormous and has moved pretty quickly, but the pandemic has probably vastly accelerated that," Saul Rosenthal, a psychologist based in Boston, told Insider.

Rosenthal said humans have evolved to turn their attention to interruptions, and we're instantly on alert after an email or instant message. A notification can feel threatening, too, if the work task associated with the message is unmanageable.

But psychologists say there are steps you can take to handle technology stress and digital chatter during the workday.

Avoid multitasking at work

Whether you're texting on your cell phone or sending an email during a meeting, multitasking diminishes your productivity.


"Multitasking kind of reduces the focus and the efficiency and the concentration and the enthusiasm for whatever is the main thing that's going on," Jasmin Tahmaseb-McConatha, a professor of psychology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, told Insider.

Rosenthal said multitasking depletes your energy, too. "It takes a lot more resources to move back and forth, and that's exhausting."

Pouring all of your energy into one project is more efficient than hopping from task to task, he said.

Time block and communicate with your team

Tahmaseb-McConatha said it's important to set expectations for when you'll be available to your team. Otherwise, the blurred lines will make you feel obligated to respond all day when your time can be better spent on a project that requires attention.

In fact, Tahmaseb-McConatha tells her students she's only available to answer emails during a set time. "People need to be very disciplined about setting those limits for themselves," she said.


Organizations should allow for workers to have uninterrupted, focused periods of work, Rosenthal said. "You'll have workers that are more productive and more connected to the organization itself."

Take a break, even if it's just five minutes

If you weave in five-minute breaks a couple of times a day, it will help with your wellbeing, Tahmaseb-McConatha said. Disconnecting can ultimately make you more productive, too.

"If you sit at your computer for four hours, or if you sit at your computer for two hours, you probably get the same amount of work done because at some point your brain just starts going around in a circle," Tahmaseb-McConatha said.

Rosenthal also recommends moving around during a five-minute break.

"Our bodies are really evolved to move around. And so when you're stuck in one position that stresses the body out," Rosenthal said.