Research report on email use

May 18, 2016 BY danariely

First, I want to thank everyone who participated in this research.  Thanks

And now, for the results….

Email has become a mix of blessing and evil in our lives. Blessing because it has become a broad communication channel for everything—for our friends, family, work and businesses. Evil because it constantly interrupts us in our daily lives. Moreover, we end up at the mercy of other people’s timelines. It’s your list on your computer, but the order of that list and when it comes depends on when somebody else decides to send you something.

What if we could put emails on our own timeline? What if we could decide which and what kinds of emails we should receive at times that match our own schedules?

To find out, we asked over 1500 of your fellow readers to determine the ideal email timeline.

Currently, people receive 100% of emails immediately upon arrival with distracting notifications. So we asked people what percentage of their emails they wanted to see that quickly. It turns out only 11% of emails need to be shown immediately upon arrival with a notification to interrupt you.

What about the other 89% of emails? We took it a step further and asked when people needed to see the rest of their emails at various points in time: from increments of hours, the end of the day, week and month. In addition we asked what percentage of emails they would want automatically deleted and automatically archived.

We found that 31% of emails can handle a delay of 1 to 8 hours and importantly, without notifications. People need to see an additional 20% of emails by the end of the day, 11% by the end of the week and 3% by the end of the month. The remaining 24% of emails could simply be trashed or archived. 

With these email preferences in mind, imagine there was a magic email genie that would automatically categorize your messages into these various time categories. Which categories would be the most useful for everyone?

When we asked our participants, the top 4 categories people would want were emails to be divided by being send immediately (with notifications), by the end of the day, by the end of the week and — you guessed it — automatically deleted.

Right now the default of every major email service is to send notifications for emails immediately upon arrival. Roughly speaking, people only want to be interrupted for about 10% of their emails immediately upon arrival. This means that email services are hurting peoples’ attention in a counter productive way the remaining 90% of the time. How do we solve this conundrum? How can we get all the emails that people never want to see—out? Our results show that having a classification of different time frames and durations of when people need to deal with emails seem to be a useful idea. Instead of having one inbox that puts us at the mercy of other people’s timelines, maybe we need multiple inboxes that are sensitive to when something needs to be dealt with.