Email Overload Research

We've scoured the Earth for studies on email overload and interruptions. Here's what we found.

It's hard to believe that in 1998 when the movie “You’ve Got Mail” came out, people actually looked forward to opening their inbox. The problem of email overload has gotten exponentially worse over the last few years. Today everyone is struggling from it, and an average employee spends 13 hours a week processing email instead of focusing on their work priorities.


An average person spends 28% of their time 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 a completely reactive, low value work (keep in mind responding to emails is only part of the job description for customer support).
  • Email Overload Is A Global Epidemic

 

Less than half of emails deserve attention

  • According to SaneBox’s internal data, an average inbox contains only 42% important, relevant emails. This means 58% of the emails in the average inbox are not important and can be processed in bulk.
  • The Signal to Noise Ratio In an Average Inbox Is Very Low

 

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 their work at the same work rate at which they left it.
  • It Is Critical to Batch-process Unimportant Emails

 

Email overload increases stress levels

  • A team of researchers at UC Irvine and U.S. Army studied effects of limiting email access on participants’ heart rate and ability to focus. It found that limiting email access dramatically reduces stress by tracking participants’ heart rate. Participants without access to email switched windows 18 times per hour vs 37 times per hour for participants with email access.
  • Controlled Login Times and Batch Processing Emails Decrease Stress and Increase 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.
  • Email Is Here To Stay, But Companies Need Policies and Tools To Reduce Email Overload

 

References

  1. The McKinsey Group: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies
  2. UC Irvine: A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons
  3. Silicon Republic: Ban is wrong approach to email overload 
  4. Thomas Jackson, Ray Dawson and Darren Wilson: Evaluating the Effect of Email Interruptions within the Workplace
  5. The Grossman Group: Enough Already! Stop Bad Email

 

Further Reading

  1. Danwood Case Study: Evaluating the Effect of Email Interruptions within the Workplace
  2. Oklahoma City University Research: An Explanatory Analysis of Email Processing Strategies
  3. Mchigan State University Study: Timecourse of recovery from task interruption: data and a model
  4. Huge library of research on email overload, distractions and interruptions: http://iorgforum.org/research