7 Reasons Why Smartphone Email Is Not So Smart After All

7 Reasons Why Smartphone Email Is Not So Smart After All

Smartphones are so empowering. They put a whole world of information at our fingertips. They allow us to  access an incredible range of apps and services. And they make it possible for us to send and receive e-mail everywhere we go and at all times of the day and working long after working hours have finished.

But for most people, this hyper-connectivity means that the slave has become the master. Smartphones can be addictive. Otherwise-sane people can been seen checking their smartphones obsessively, sending and receiving e-mails, texts and social media messages first thing in the morning, all day long and last thing at night.

Here are 7 reasons why allowing email on your smartphone might not be so smart after all:

Reason #1: It causes hyper-connectivity

With email available via our smartphones, we are never disconnected, constantly interrupted and seemingly always checking email.

Clay Johnson, in his book The Information Diet writes about the similarity between indigestion and infogestion. He compares the poor eating habits so many have acquired where they are either snacking all the time or starving themselves and then binging on food. It seems we tend to do the same sort of thing with incoming information and email.

Unfortunately, what happens is that these repeated and rapid downloads of information and data are taking the place of thinking and reflection. All the distractions from email, social media, an app or a website tends to overdose us with the inconsequential and trivial while we may miss or overlook the essential and important!

As Jonathan Spira, CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of ‘Overload! How Too Much Information is Hazardous to your Organization’ has written, ‘these days the problem is that being so highly connected we risk a serious ‘disconnect’ – from each other, from what’s important, from reality’.

Reason #2: Wrong place, wrong time!

It’s difficult to do email well on a smartphone. The environment is just too small…attachments and documents are hard to access, to manage and to view. Accessing information that might be needed for an adequate reply is very difficult or even impossible.

And when we are mobile, we often just don’t have the time or mental space to do the thinking required for a complete email response. The exception, of course, is with short, sharp messages. In such cases, a text message is probably a better option anyway.

Reason #3: Addictive behaviors and short-term thinking

Email on smartphones is another source of interruption and reinforces the addiction to checking new messages.  Each time we check a new text or email message or click like on Facebook we get a small dopamine hit – it feels exciting, it feels good. We get some short term gratification.

We soon become addicted to this, as shown by research at both Harvard and Stanford Universities ( as quoted in ‘The Rise of the Humans: How to outsmart the digital deluge’ by Dave Coplin for more).

Reason #4: A smartphone is the wrong tool for email

Email was designed as an asynchronous form of communication but smartphones tend to be used as a synchronous tool.  As a written, digital medium, email is often slower to fully and effectively communicate a message compared with a verbal conversation (phone or face-to-face). Therefore, email shouldn’t be used for time-sensitive or urgent messages.

By their nature, these sort of ‘urgent’ messages also need great clarity – something that is very hard to achieve with email and especially via a smartphone where the message is received ‘on the go’, often as an interruption and with little time for clarity of thought. If the message is relatively simple, short and/or time sensitive, a text or SMS message is a better option for a smartphone than an email.

Reason #5: Mental clutter and overload

Getting email on a smartphone only alerts you to issues at a place and time when there is little or nothing you can do about them. And then the Ziegarnik Effect kicks in – we remember unfinished, incomplete tasks much more readily than finished or completed ones.

Having lots of emails arrive to the smartphone and not being in a good position to deal with them effectively adds to our mental clutter, making it hard to fully focus on the issues that are in front of you. Most people are completely unaware of the significant psychological ‘drag’ this has on their thinking. Enough of it leads to feeling overwhelmed, out of control and suffering from stress.

Reason #6: It can send the wrong signals.

Smartphones allows us to now send email from any where at any time. However, just because it suits to write and send a message late at night or on the weekend, what expectations are you then communicating to  colleagues or staff when the message arrives at their end?

A growing complaint is coming from subordinates who receive email at assorts of odd hours and they simply don’t know whether they are expected to respond and take action immediately or if the issue can wait till normal working hours.

Reason #7: Work life balance

As an examples of what some compaie are doing to help their employees with work-life balance, VW in Germany stopped their Blackberry servers sending our email 30 mins before and after work shifts in response to union concerns about the pressure on workers to respond to email at any time of the day and their feeling that that their work and home lives were becoming blurred. In France, these concerns have led to  new legislation from 1st January 2017 that requires businesses with 50 or more employees to negotiate afterhours email rules with their employees.

Without these sort of boundaries, most executives are lumbered with two overlapping workdays: a formal one full of meetings and an informal one spent trying to keep up with the overload of e-mail messages. None of this is good for business people’s relationships, recreation, hobbies  or mental health. And it may ultimately be bad for business, too.


Steuart Snooks
Steuart Snooks

Steuart Snooks is Australia’s leading Email Expert, with a decade of researching and developing best practices solutions to help knowledge workers restore e-mail to its rightful place as a tool to facilitate improved workplace and personal productivity.

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