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Reading Email Lowers IQ

I was going to write about something else, when I got distracted by an article that was forwarded to me, “Emails ‘Hurt IQ More Than Pot.'”

And that’s the whole point of the article: Constant interruptions in the form of email, phone calls, and text messages reduce our ability to concentrate.

According to the article, Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, conducted 80 clinical trials in which he monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day. He found “the IQ of those who tried to juggle messages and work fell by 10 points–the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the 4-point fall seen after smoking marijuana.”

Yikes! What does this worrisome research mean to business writers? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Reserve time to work on writing projects. During this time, write. Do not check email, text messages, or voice messages. If your job requires you to check messages, respond only if the message is urgent and important.
  2. When you send messages to others, be sure to include all the necessary information. Otherwise, you waste time and reduce mental sharpness playing email tennis, lobbing follow-up messages back and forth across the Internet.
  3. Resist the urge to check messages continuously. Set aside time just for that purpose.
  4. Relax your expectations of others. Give them plenty of time to respond to your messages.
  5. Don’t copy people on messages that aren’t essential to their success. Their brain power is too valuable to waste.

To me, the main point is this: Rather than being productive and efficient, constant attention to incoming messages is mind-dumbing.

Resist the ping, vibration, or icon that tells you a message is waiting. Breathe. Relax. Focus. In the long run, you’ll be much more productive.

Ah, I feel better (and smarter) already.

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.