We’ve scoured the earth for studies on email overload and interruptions. Here’s what we found.
The average person spends 28% of the workweek reading and responding to email
– The McKinsey Global Institute found that an average employee spends 13 hours a week reading and responding to email. That’s by far the most time-consuming work activity at 28% of our work time.
– This equates to 650 hours a year spent on completely reactive, low-value work.
– Key takeaway: Email overload is a global epidemic.
Less than half of emails deserve attention
– According to SaneBox’s internal data, the average inbox contains only 38% important, relevant emails. This means 62% of the emails in the average inbox are not important and can be processed in bulk.
– Just a few years ago, the breakdown of important vs. unimportant incoming email was 42% to 58%, meaning today’s typical inbox has shifted toward more noise than before.
– Key takeaway: The signal to noise ratio in an average inbox is very low and getting worse.
It takes 64 seconds to recover from an email
– Email interruptions are a drain on productivity.
– A study by the Danwood Group found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover from an email interruption (regardless of the email’s importance) and return to work at the same work rate as before the interruption.
– Key takeaway: It is critical to batch-process unimportant emails.
Email overload increases stress levels
– A team of researchers at UC Irvine and the U.S. Army studied the effects of email access on heart rate and ability to focus. After tracking participants with heart rate monitors, the researchers found that limiting email access dramatically reduces stress levels.
– Moreover, those without access to email switched windows an average of 18 times per hour, while those with access to email did so an average of 37 times per hour.
– Key takeaway: Controlled login times and batch processing emails decreases stress and increases productivity.
Limiting internal email is not a good option
– A study by the Grossman Group suggests that limiting or eliminating internal email to employees isn’t an effective solution to email overload.
– The study found that middle managers who were spending around 100 hours per year on unimportant emails didn’t want their email access limited or taken away. They did, however, want policies put in place that would reduce the volume of emails sent to their inbox.
– Key takeaway: Email is here to stay, but companies need policies and tools to reduce email overload.
The number of email users, email accounts, and email sends is only increasing
– According to Radicati’s Email Statists Report, 2015-2019, there were 2.6 billion email users in 2015. This number is expected to grow to over 2.9 billion by the end of 2019.
– In the same amount of time, it’s predicted that the average number of email accounts will increase from 1.7 to 1.9 per email user.
– 205 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2015. This number is predicted to increase by 3% annually through 2019, ultimately reaching over 246 billion email exchanges daily.
– Key takeaway: With more email users, accounts per user, and overall sends, email overload will only continue to grow in the coming years.
References and further reading
- The McKinsey Group: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies
- UC Irvine: A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons
- Silicon Republic: Ban is wrong approach to email overload
- Thomas Jackson, Ray Dawson and Darren Wilson: Evaluating the Effect of Email Interruptions within the Workplace
- The Grossman Group: Enough Already! Stop Bad Email
- The Radicati Group: Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019
- Danwood Case Study: Evaluating the Effect of Email Interruptions within the Workplace
- Oklahoma City University Research: An Explanatory Analysis of Email Processing Strategies
- Michigan State University Study: Timecourse of recovery from task interruption: data and a model
- Huge library of research on email overload, distractions, and interruptions: http://iorgforum.org/research
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