If you find yourself checking and answering emails late at night, while you are waiting at red lights, or during your cousin’s ballet recital, you are not alone. If you have contemplated taking your phone to the bathroom to delete some new items that have popped up in your inbox, or have felt like a warrior when you cleared said inbox, I am with you. Email is a hug time-suck, and sometimes it feels like it is the modern version of the Sisyphus story; no matter how clean your inbox, it will be immediately cluttered again soon. All email victories are short-lived.
Sure, email has some pretty fantastic benefits. Sometimes, being able to work while you are watching a game, or on the road is a blessing, allowing you to travel or attend the game in the first place, instead of being stuck at the office. But as we all know, those initial perks of working from your phone or laptop aren’t really outweighed by the fact that now it’s expected that we keep up with work during non-work hours. But! You say, email also serves as a searchable filing system, and as a way to remind ourselves of something. No email isn’t horrible and is sometimes wonderfully useful. But I would posit that it does take an outsize chunk of our work time, despite its benefits.
A recent article in New York magazine paints a data-driven picture: “The average worker in the knowledge economy spends 28 percent of his or her time reading and answering e-mail. Doing the math, that comes to 11.2 hours per week, if one assumes a 40-hour workweek.” Naturally a large part of any job is communications, especially in a knowledge-based economy. And so the deluge of emails sent and received every day by most of us could be justified, if they were all useful— but only 42 percent of messages we get are important (and 67 seconds to ‘recover’ from each email we deal with). So we are spending more than half of an already large chunk of our workdays dealing with unimportant emails. Unless you are in sales, those kinds of statistics are just not equal to the usefulness of face-to-face meetings and even the now-lowly phone call. But I can’t see myself going back to those older forms of communication either.
Want to know where your email habits fit into the norm? “According to the Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, Americans received 75 business e-mails per day in 2012 — only a small fraction of which were spam, by the way — and sent 35. Those numbers are expected to increase, respectively, to 87 and 42 by 2016.” That seems about right to me, but I’m an editor and writer and run my own site—what surprises me is how much email people get who aren’t web-based workers. It’s also a little scary to think that the number of emails I deal with will actually go up in the future.
How do you feel about email in your line of work? Does it take way too much time? What are your coping strategies? Would you rather go back to making phone calls?